- Suvendu Adhikari, Jitendra Tiwari had quit yesterday
- Resignations come after Amit Shah's visit to Bengal
- Mr Adhikari, a big catch for BJP, is said to have influence on 50 seats
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress lost five MLAs in 24 hours but managed a save when one of them, Jitendra Tiwari, declared he was back in the party. Friday's big exits were MLAs Shilbhadra Dutta and Banasree Maiti, as the party bleeds rebels looking to cross over to the BJP ahead of polls four months away. Jitendra Tiwari and Suvendu Adhikari quit on Thursday.
Last evening, Jitendra Tiwari declared his resignation a "mistake". After meeting with a senior leader and state minister, he told reporters: "I never said anything about Didi (Mamata Banerjee) or joining BJP".
What may have got in the way of Mr Tiwari showing up at Amit Shah's rally in Medinipur on Saturday was an objection raised by Asansol MP Babul Supriyo moments after he resigned on Thursday. The BJP leader, who has had many run ins with Mr Tiwari in the past, said his joining the party would be like adding insult to injury of BJP workers. He had also hinted that Mr Tiwari was involved in a coal scam being investigated by the CBI.
Mr Supriyo was backed by the Bengal BJP chief, Dilip Ghosh, who said given the animosity between supporters of both the parties, working together could prove difficult.
The Trinamool has shrugged off the exits of MLAs that it described as liabilities. After a meeting at Mamata Banerjee's residence on Friday evening, attended by her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, an MP, and poll strategist Prashant Kishor, Trinamool sources said the Chief Minister took a hard line against defectors, virtually saying good riddance. The party is confident of a big win, Trinamool sources said.
Earlier in the day, in a clear sign of strained nerves, the Bengal assembly Speaker refused to accept the resignation of Suvendu Adhikari, who submitted his quit letter on Thursday.
Speaker Biman Banerjee has asked Mr Adhikari to meet him on Monday, saying his resignation letter was not in order and he was not satisfied that it was "genuine and voluntary".
The party received its first bad news of the day as Shilbhadra Dutta, the lawmaker from Barrackpore, quit. Mr Dutta has since confirmed to NDTV that he will join the BJP today in the presence of senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who tours Bengal this weekend.
Mr Dutta had openly attacked the growing influence of IPAC, Prashant Kishor's outfit, in running the Trinamool, and had refused to meet IPAC employees who visited him at his home recently.
"I think that I am unfit in the party in the present scenario," Mr Dutta told reporters after emailing his resignation to the Chief Minister.
Many other resignations are taking place at lower tiers of the party.
The back-to-back exits from Triamool came just ahead of Amit Shah's visit.
"The rate at which TMC MLAs are resigning, Pishi (aunt) must perhaps consider setting up a resignation collection center in her office...," sneered BJP's social media chief Amit Malviya in a tweet referring to Mamata Banerjee as "aunt".
Soon after Jitendra Tiwari's resignation on Thursday, his close associate Colonel Diptanshu Chowdhury (retd) also resigned as South Bengal State Transport Corporation and head of the state's grievance monitoring cell. Col Chowdhury had joined the Trinamool from the BJP. The party's minority cell leader Kabirul Islam is another huge loss.
What is rapidly looking like an exodus is worrying for the Trinamool as it confronts the BJP's aggressive campaign to oust it from power in Bengal. It started with Mukul Roy, who was practically the Chief Minister's right-hand man when he quit and joined the BJP in 2017.
Mr Roy, facing investigations in the Narada sting operation case and the Sharada ponzi scam, is seen to have played a big role in the BJP's impressive Bengal tally in last year's Lok Sabha elections.
Trinamool's MLA from Cooch Behar South, Mihir Goswami, had quit the party and joined the BJP last month.
Mr Adhikari, credited with crafting the Trinamool's victory in the 2016 state election, is a big catch for the BJP. Mr Adhikari is said to have control over local leaders in as many as 50 seats in the western part of the state. Banasree Maiti, who quit this evening, is his close associate.
The Trinamool failed to placate Mr Adhikari. Senior leader Saugata Roy had Mr Adhikari meet Abhishek Banerjee and Prashant Kishor and termed the meeting a success. But the very next day, Mr Adhikari texted Mr Roy to say: "Excuse me, I cannot work like this anymore".
Another Trinamool leader, East Burdwan MP Sunil Mondal, is also believed to be on his way out.
Mamata Banerjee, at a recent rally in Cooch Behar, said: "Some people will come and go with the tide. But the real Trinamool is intact."
Amit Shah has set a target of 200 of the state's 294 seats for the assembly polls.