In what could be a blow to Bengal's Trinamool Congress ahead of next year's Assembly poll, senior minister Suvendu Adhikari has resigned from his post. The resignation letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was submitted this morning and a copy sent to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Mr Adhikari has quit as minister for transport and irrigation, but remains a Trinamool MLA as he has not resigned from the Assembly. His resignation is being widely seen as a precursor for his exit from the party; Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said today that Mr Adhikari is "welcome to join".
The Nandigram MLA, who was seen taking money on the Narada sting operation tapes and has been named in a money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate, has made no secret of his discontent within the Trinamool for the past months.
He has skipped several party and cabinet meetings and, at his numerous rallies, there have been no Trinamool flags or banners, or portraits of the Chief Minister. While he has never spoken publicly, Mr Adhikari is believed to be unhappy with the focus on Ms Banerjee's nephew, Abhishek Banerjee.
"I have not arrived by parachute or by a lift, I have reached where I am by climbing up the stairs, one step at a time," he said at a recent public meeting.
He is also known to be displeased with the influence of poll strategist Prashant Kishor in party affairs. Mr Kishor travelled 150 km to Mr Adhikari's home in East Midnapore's Kanthi this month, but had to leave after only meeting his father, Trinamool MP Sisir Adhikari.
Over the past two weeks the Trinamool deployed senior MP Sougata Roy to talk to Mr Adhikari. At least two meetings were held in Kolkata, but neither yielded a breakthrough.
"Mr Adhikari has not resigned as MLA or from the party. Till then, there is hope to talk and ensure he stays. I think he has no plans to leave the party and is open to talks. I will keep trying," Mr Roy said today.
Dilip Ghosh said: "I have not spoken to Mr Adhikari. He is welcome to join the BJP. He is a fighter. He will be given full respect in the party. This is the beginning of the end of the Trinamool. The party will disappear."
"Trinamool Congress is not a party... it is a mela, a circus. There is an owner, a director-producer and the rest work as employees. Those who want to be self-respecting party workers are leaving. The BJP's doors are wide open for those who want to fight for Bengal's parivartan," he added.
Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury declared the ruling party would now "crumble like a house of cards".
Suvendu Adhikari, 49, led the Trinamool's struggle at Nandigram in 2007 and captured it from the Left. Nandigram, and then Singur, catapulted the Trinamool to power in Bengal in 2011.
Mr Adhikari is also known to be an effective administrator.
He was elected MP in 2009 and 2014, but brought back to the state in 2015 to serve as minister and leader. He delivered in the elections but felt his wings were getting clipped recently.