In This Round, Amit Shah Seems To Have Scored Over Mamata

Rarely has a WhatsApp message caused such upset, public loss of temper and embarrassment as the one purportedly sent last night by Trinamool leader Suvendu Adhikari, saying "Forgive me, I won't be able to continue (in the TMC)." The recipient was reportedly Saugata Roy, an MP and senior leader of Mamata Banerjee's party.

The WhatsApp dropped a day after a high-level meeting between Adhikari, Abhishek Banerjee who is the nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, election strategist Prashant Kishor who is working with the Trinamool for next year's election and Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Trinamool leader.

After the two-hour meet, the Trinamool claimed that Adhikari, who resigned from the cabinet a week ago, would not in fact be following that up by quitting the party and, by implication, move to the BJP.Adhikari was upset that while none of his issues with the TMC were addressed in the two-hour meeting, the media was briefed with an all-is-well spiel. 

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Suvendu Adhikari

Adhikari is a popular leader, one with a huge base in Purba Medinipur district (South-East Bengal). His father is Sisir Adhikari, former Union Minister of State for Rural Development in the Manmohan Singh government. When Mamata Banerjee staged her famous protest against the Tata Nano factory in 2006, alleging it was gypping farmers off their land and rights, he was a key accomplice, mobilising Nandigram for his boss. His dissatisfaction with Mamata Banerjee began a year ago over sidelining him and allowing the influence of her nephew and PK to grow.

Adhikari has for a while been talking sotto voce about his discomfiture with Abhishek Banerjee's role transitioning from enlarged to outsize for this election. The 49-year-old is also allegedly upset with the bulk influence of Prashant Kishor ("PK", in political parlance) on Mamata Banerjee.

A source close to Adhikari told me "Dada will go public on December 6 (Sunday). He has been very upset that Didi now only listens to her nephew and PK. Why should that man run our election campaign? Have we forgotten how to fight? Didi is showing her fear of the BJP by getting a Modi agent into the Trinamool." PK was a component of the 2014 campaign for Prime Minister Modi. Shah and Kishor don't get along and the Bengal election is the latest grudge match between them.

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Amit Shah with Mamata Banerjee (File photo)

Adhikari, now apparently determined to consummate the option of quitting the Trinamool, yields a bonanza for the BJP. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the party leader in charge of the Bengal elections said "Adhikari has raised his voice on the corruption in the Trinamool leadership including "bhaipo" (nephew) Now they want to keep him so that such corruption does not become public."

Unlike Mukul Roy, who Amit Shah poached before the last election, Adhikari is a popular grassroots leader with an iron fist control over the Haldia region. Adhikari could deliver both money and muscle power for Mamata Banerjee. Significantly, like Roy, Adhikari also has Enforcement Directorate cases against him. Trinamool leaders attribute his imminent defection to the pressure from investigative agencies that is now part of the oeuvre of the BJP.

But the expanding prominence allowed to Kishor by Mamata Banerjee and his big upping of himself at the cost of Trinamool leaders has also upset the party core. It was Abhishek Banerjee who introduced PK to his aunt. Now, the men reportedly take all the big decisions that Mamata Banerjee doesn't. I reached out to Prashant Kishor for a reaction but he refused to comment.

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Prashant Kishor

The cumulative effect of the last two days have not been reassuring for Mamata Banerjee. Apart from the Adhikari problem, her address to the Oxford Union was cancelled at the very last minute. She was informed just 10 minutes before her scheduled speech that the event had collapsed. The BJP is the culprit, her party said. It issued a statement saying "Earlier, the Chief Minister's proposed visits to China, St. Stephen's college, Chicago were also cancelled at short notice. Who is blocking these programmes? It is learnt that tremendous pressure was put from the top-most level on organisers."

Newsbeep

With the Bengal elections just months away, the BJP's formidable electoral war juggernaut is set to roll. For "Mission Bengal", the party has formed an 11-member core team, including the chief of the infamous IT cell, Amit Malviya. Shah has asked that the constituencies be divided into five zones, each under the charge of a central party secretary. The final calls will be taken by him. And he is busy trying to finalize a chief ministerial face. Sourav Ganguly, the former Indian cricket team captain and currently the chief of the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), tops Amit Shah's wish list. Among Ganguly's colleagues at the BCCI is Amit Shah's son, Jay Shah, who serves as Treasurer. Ganguly has had several one-on-one meetings with Shah, the most recent just weeks ago; he has not quite said yes but, more significantly, not said a definitive no either.

Shah does have a few niggling issue to work out - because he has ensured an open door for all leaders to join, the party is faction-riven as a result. The old Sangh guard can't stand the newbie Trinamool entrants led by erstwhile Banerjee lieutenant Mukul Roy. None of the local leaders or Delhi imports like singer Babul Supriyo quite make the cut.

The departure of leaders like Adhikari portrays Mamata Banerjee as a leader struggling to keep her flock together, unable to ward off the allure for her party members of the BJP. But if there is one thing she is known for, it is as a fighter. It would be foolhardy, at this juncture, to assume she is operating from a position of weakness.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

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