BJP starts ‘surgical strike’ in Bengal

The defection of Suvendu Adhikari with eight TMC lawmakers and dozens of local body representatives to BJP is a major setback for Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Adhikari was Mamata’s lieutenant in the Nandigram movement that helped unseat CPM’s 34-year-long rule, ably organising party workers while she led from the front. Filling the vacuum left by such a resourceful politician will be difficult.
Adhikari, the former Minister of Transport, Irrigation and Water resource in Government of West Bengal, has taken with him a total of more than 40 TMC leaders to the BJP. Nine MLAs – six from TMC, one from CPIM, one from CPI and one from Congress – joined BJP on Saturday. One sitting and a former TMC MP also defected to the Hindutva camp.
Adhikari may also suit BJP’s need for a prominent Bengali face to counter the towering Mamata personality. The increasingly presidential nature of elections is forcing opposition parties to project chief ministerial candidates against incumbent CMs.
The assembly elections to West Bengal are scheduled for early summer next year. This is the one eastern state where the BJP was unable to make deep inroads till 2019. Despite the fact that the founder of the BJP’s earlier avatar, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was from the state; it is despite the fact that the state was witness to Partition and remains demographically mixed with a substantial Muslim population — often a ripe enough basis for the BJP to make a splash. But the three-decade-long rule of the Left and then the decades-old regime of Mamata Banerjee kept the party on the fringes. After 10 years in government, Mamata is slipping on issues like corruption, syndicate raj and the abiding perception that Bengal is hard territory to do business. With the economy in doldrums, governing parties everywhere face a stiff challenge.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee on Sunday called her NCP counterpart Sharad Pawar after BJP on Saturday roped in Suvendu Adhikari from her party with the message of repeating the same with many more. According to Bengal news portal The Wall, Banerjee called Pawar to have him in Kolkata ahead of the West Bengal Assembly Elections in 2021. She is trying to resurrect her idea of a united opposition, consisting of regional parties, against BJP.
Much like what had happened leading up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee is trying to get parties like NCP, MK Stalin’s DMK and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party to have a rally in Kolkata in January next year.  Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar is known to be someone who has mastered the art of resisting BJP’s agenda of breaking the oppositions. He stopped the Hindutva party’s wagon in Maharashtra in 2019. Thus, Banerjee’s call to Pawar, one of the senior-most politicians around, has raised many eyebrows in West Bengal, where the political state of affairs seems to have heated up despite the state witnessing its coldest weekend of the season. 

- Prabhakar Purandare

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