Rebel Trinamool Congress leader Suvendu Adhikari on Wednesday resigned as an MLA amid speculations about his switching over to the BJP and setting off concern in the Trinamool Congress as several disgruntled lawmakers rallied behind him.
Suvendu Adhikari, the face of the Nandigram movement that added to the political heft of Mamata Banerjee and catapulted her to power in West Bengal in 2011, submitted his resignation letter to the assembly secretary.
The TMC MLA of Nandigram constituency in Purba Medinipur district had resigned from the state cabinet last month.
Two-time Bardhaman Purba Lok Sabha MP Sunil Mandal came out in support of Adhikari and criticised the party leadership for not doing enough in controlling the infighting and corruption within it. "Suvendu Adhikari is a good leader and has a strong mass base. It will adversely impact TMC... There is a drift in the party," he said.
"There are a lot of problems in the party and the leadership has failed to address it. The party leadership is saying old-timers and newcomers have to work together, but nothing has happened in this regard," the MP said.
"Whoever is saying anything or expressing his grievances about the party(TMC) are being asked to leave it. Suvendu Adhikari is the second most important mass leader after party chief Mamata Banerjee. But he too had grievances. When I expressed my problems, I was told to join BJP by municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim," Asansol civic body chief Jitendra Tiwari said.
Hinting at a brewing rebellion in the party ahead of the assembly polls, Mr Adhikari later held a closed-door meeting with disgruntled leaders including Jitendra Tiwari and senior Sunil Mandal at the latter's residence at Kanksa area in Paschim Bardhaman district.
While senior TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee described his resignation as a "good relief", BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya claimed that this is the "beginning of the end" of the ruling party which would now collapse like a house of cards.
"I do hereby tender my resignation from the member of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. Steps may be taken for its immediate acceptance," Mr Adhikari wrote in his resignation letter.
Speaker Biman Banerjee said that he will look into his resignation letter and act as per norms.
According to the sources close to Mr Adhikari, he is likely to resign from the party's primary membership within a day or two and is expected to cross over to the BJP camp later this week, reported news agency Press Trust of India.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to be on a two-day visit to West Bengal starting Saturday.
Suvendu Adhikari, who is likely to fly to New Delhi within a day or two, "will not join the BJP alone. Several other MLAs, ministers and MPs are in touch with us," a close associate of the rebel TMC leader told news agency PTI.
Mr Adhikari sought Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar's intervention to ensure that the police did not implicate him in criminal cases out of "political vendetta".
The former two-time MP, said to be unhappy over organisational changes in the TMC and the growing clout of election strategist Prashant Kishor and Abhishek Banerjee, the Chief Minister's nephew and the Lok Sabha MP from Diamond Harbour, in the decision making the process of the party.
After efforts of rapprochement failed, he criticised the TMC leadership on a range of issues but did not name anyone.
Mr Adhikari, an influential leader with a mass base, has maintained that it is "difficult for him to work with the party".
After resigning as an MLA, he went to Paschim Bardhaman district and held a two-hour-long meeting with several dissident Trinamool leaders.
The meeting was held at the house of party MP Sunil Mandal, who had come out in support of Suvendu Adhikari in the morning blaming the party leadership for not addressing his grievances on time.
Within minutes, Jitendra Tiwari, MLA of Pandavesawar and the TMC Paschim Bardhaman district unit chief, was also seen entering Sunil Mandal's residence.
Mr Tiwari, also mayor of Asansol, recently slammed the state government for allegedly depriving the industrial town of central funds for political reasons.
A few other disgruntled TMC leaders from Birbhum and Bardhaman districts too joined the meeting, sources told news agency PTI.
Earlier in the day, TMC's two-time Diamond Harbour MLA Dipak Haldar also criticised the party leadership.
Reacting to the Mr Adhikari's resignation, TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee said, "It's a good relief that he resigned as an MLA."
He is overambitious and wants to join the BJP as he wants to become the next CM or deputy CM. He can go ahead. We are confident of winning the next assembly polls under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee."
Earlier in the day, the Chief Minister while addressing a rally in Coochbehar district, termed the deserters of the party as "opportunists and cowards" and accused the BJP of trying to coerce TMC leaders to join the BJP.
BJP national vice-president Mukul Roy hailed Suvendu Adhikari's decision and said the BJP would welcome him with open arms.
"The day Suvendu Adhikari had resigned from the state cabinet, I had said I would be happy if he leaves the TMC and join the BJP," Mr Roy said.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury termed the growing resentment in the ruling TMC as "poetic justice" and claimed that the party is being paid back in its own coin.
Suvendu Adhikari's father Sisir Adhikari and brother Dibyendu are sitting TMC MPs from Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha constituencies respectively.
The Adhikari family wields considerable influence in at least 40-45 assembly segments in Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram, parts of Birbhum - mainly in the Junglemahal region - and areas in minority-dominated Murshidabad district.
The brewing discontentment in the party may adversely impact the TMC's prospects in the next assembly polls due in April-May next year.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)