On Tuesday, when all eyes are on Bihar Assembly election results, West Bengal’s attention will be divided between Patna, and Nandigram city in Purba Medinipur district, 131 km south of Kolkata.
State Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari will address a mega rally there, significantly, not under the Trinamool Congress banner, minus party flags and without portraits of its chief Mamata Banerjee at the venue.
His posters are also up in many other districts – Purulia, Nadia, Murshidabad, East Midnapore – with no indication of his association with the Trinamool Congress, or the TMC.
Lately, that’s been the pattern at all of Mr Adhikari’s rallies fanning rumours of his imminent exit from the Trinamool Congress.
Recently at Purba Medinipur’s Contai, loyalists had queued up to sign their names, as pledges of their continued support, on strategically placed banners with Mr Adhikari’s photos.
Mr Adhikari is known to be unhappy that Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee – the chief minister’s nephew – is the unnamed prince in the party, while he, who wrested Nandigram from the Left in 2007-08 and paved the way for Trinamool to gain power in the state, is nowhere in the hierarchy.
Mamata Banerjee’s nephew had replaced Mr Adhikari as the TMC Youth Congress chief in 2011.
“I have neither been sky-dropped nor risen up the ranks automatically,” Mr Adhikari said at a rally in Nandigram on October 31. “I have climbed up step by step by step,” he had added in a pointed dig at Mr Banerjee.
The finger-pointing was not for the first time. Mr Adhikari has been attacking the TMC without taking names.
“You will learn to cycle much faster if you fall off it a couple of times. If people are holding the cycle while to pedal, it will take you a long time to learn,” he had said last week.
Now, signals are that he may speak even more plainly at Nandigram on November 10, though he may time his departure from Trinamool a few weeks later.
Mr Adhikari himself has remained incommunicado with messages on his phone and calls going unanswered.
Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee is one of few leaders from the party who have spoken on Mr Adhikari. “It doesn’t matter where he is holding his rallies. They are rallies for the Trinamool. He is an integral part of the Trinamool Congress and a very dear leader,” Mr Banerjee said on Sunday in Hooghly.
But on Sunday, at Haldia township of East Midnapore district – Mr Adhikari’s home turf – TMC’s women workers loyal to him took to the streets demanded action against its municipal chief Deb Prasad Mandal. They claimed he had made lewd phone calls to a woman party worker.
Mr Mandal belongs to a camp opposed to Mr Adhikari’s. His supporters also hit the streets and clashed with Mr Adhikari loyalists with the police being called in to restore calm.
Analysts watching related developments feel Mr Adhikari’s exit could cost the Trinamool Congress. He is one of few party leaders who have their own clout and could win an election minus the Trinamool symbol. He also has an extensive organisational network, and his departure may trigger many more to follow suit.
Besides dissatisfaction with party hierarchy, Suvendu Adhikari may also have some other compulsions to quit. He is named in the Narada case and may seek shelter with the BJP, much like Mukul Roy, once Mamata Banerjee’s close aide, and now the BJP national secretary.
The state assembly elections are due to be held next year, with BJP looking to wrest power from two-term Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.