When in 2007 the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, had with her rag-tag army launched her expedition against the three-decade old Left Front rule she, perhaps herself, had never imagined that by 2011 she would be bringing down the Red citadel. Those were the worst period for Trinamool Congress—she was the only party MP to win in 2004 Lok Sabha election—Mamata had hardly any wherewithal to take on well-entrenched Marxists. After the rout in that parliamentary poll, she had virtually snapped her relationship with the National Democratic Alliance. In the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, she had served as the Railway Minister.
Notwithstanding her disastrous defeat three years ago she marched to the battleground of Nandigram to fight for the cause of farmers who were opposing the then Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government’s land acquisition policy of 2006 for the Special Economic Zone. Nandigram shot into limelight after the March 14, 2007 police firing in which 14 people lost their lives.
There she got the able support from her lieutenant Suvendhu Adhikari, then a party MLA. At the same time a similar type of struggle had started in Singur in Hooghly district where the Tatas wanted to set up a plant of a small car named Nano. By late 2008 the Tatas withdrew from the scene and went to establish the plant in Gujarat.
In Singur a retired school teacher Rabindranath Bhattacharya was one of the local leading light. He became the TMC MLA and a minister in the first term between 2011 and 2016. He was denied ticket this time because he is now in his late 80s, precisely 88. But on March 8 he was among the five MLAs who crossed over to the BJP. Four of these five failed to get the ticket of the TMC. One of them is Jatu Lahiri (84) who could not be fielded because he too is above 80—the age limit set by the party.
In Singur, the other battlefield, the TMC has given ticket to much younger Bechram Manna, another hero of the same movement against the land acquisition. His wife, Kabari Manna, a seasoned party leader, too had got the TMC ticket from neighbouring Haripal constituency.
No doubt the likes of Suvendhu and Rabindranath, and many others, played a vital role at the grassroots level at Nandigram and Singur between 2006 and 2008. But the struggle might not have succeeded had these lieutenants and foot soldiers not got the leadership of a General, that is Mamata Banerjee.
Today, thanks to the circumstances, they might have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party yet it is a fact that many of these leaders got more than their due while remaining associated with Mamata.
Suvendhu was surely top among them. His 80-year old father Sisir Adhikari, a present TMC MP from Kanthi, went on to become minister of state for rural development in Manmohan Singh government’s second term.
Suvendhu’s brother Dibyendu is also a Lok Sabha MP from Tamluk from the same party, TMC. Another brother, Soumendu, was till recently the administrator of the Contai Municipality in Purba Medinipur district. He quit the TMC and joined BJP in January this year.
With Suvendhu out of the party, uncertainty looms large over the stay of Sisir and Dibyendu in the TMC—technically they are still party MPs. The irony is that Suvendhu, who served as the powerful transport minister under Mamata till November last, is now accusing her of promoting family rule just because her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, too is an MP from Diamond Harbour.
Anyway, the battle-line seems to be clearly drawn. The bigger question is: Will Mamata succeed this time as unlike Left Front she had to encounter a very powerful rival which is ruling India as well as several states?
But when Mamata took the Left, she too was very weak. She was the only MP of the TMC. In 2009 the tally jumped to 19. She, Mukul Roy and Dinesh Trivedi all went on to become ministers in the Manmohan cabinet. The last two are now in the BJP. Subsequently she became the chief minister of the state in 2011.
So, if the BJP is a strong rival, Mamata too is a very strong chief minister now and is still the biggest mass leader of the state.
If she had overcome the strong Red Army, which had cadres in each and every village and mohalla, will not she be able to trounce the BJP, which mainly relies on the strength of the TMC deserters. Unlike other states of India, in West Bengal the BJP still lacks a network of strong party workers.
But if Suvendhu proves to be a giant killer and defeats Mamata he would be certainly a front runner for the post of the chief minister. The old guards like Dilip Ghosh or Babul Supriyo may lose the race. Thenceforth, the TMC B-team will rule the state.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.