Singur and Nandigram, the two places where mass movements against land acquisition during 2006-08 paved the path for Mamata Banerjees’s political resurrection, are back in the discourse, but for all the wrong reasons for her party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), barely half a year ahead of the seeking their third term to power.
Singur and Nandigram are two of the most prestigious Assembly constituencies in the state, as the chief minister has repeatedly acknowledged her debt to the land of the two agitations that paved the downfall of the Left Front’s three-decades-old regime.
On November 10, the party’s ‘Nandigram hero’, local MLA and heavyweight minister Suvendu Adhikari hinted at parting ways, and the TMC reciprocated by withdrawing security cover provided by the state police to three of his close associates. The next day, Adhikari gave the cabinet meeting a miss.
On Thursday, Becharam Manna, one of the prime leaders of the Singur movement and the MLA from Singur’s neighbouring Haripal, went to tender his resignation before the Assembly Speaker in a sudden move but was persuaded against by the party’s top leadership. Till last report received, Manna was returning to his home district of Hooghly without submitting the resignation.
Manna’s move came a day after Singur MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya, also a leader of the Singur land agitation, threatened to quit the party protesting the party’s decision to entrust a Manna-loyalist with Singur’s organizational affairs. A senior TMC leader from Singur’s district, Hooghly, said that Manna revolted after Mamata Banerjee decided to accept Bhattacharya’s demands.
Bhattacharya and Manna’s rift over political control of Singur is well-known but it has burst out at the worst time for the TMC – in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s Hooghly Lok Sabha candidate took a lead of over 10,000 votes from Singur Assembly segment, reflecting local people’s disenchantment with the ruling party.
However, if the rebellion of the Singur movement leaders can influence the result only in the Assembly segments of Singur and Haripal, the Nandigram MLA’s parting ways could cost TMC much more. Adhikari is one of the party’s leading faces having his own popularity across the state.
A former Lok Sabha MP and present transport minister, he is part of the party’s highest decision-making body, the seven-member steering committee. On behalf of the party, he had been in-charge of as many as five district, in each of which he carried out poaching drive on the Left and the Congress to weaken the Opposition.
Overall, Adhikari has a significant follower base in five of the state’s 23 districts – East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur – as well as in the districts of Hooghly and Nadia.
His father, Sisir Adhikari, is serving his third term as a Lok Sabha member after serving three terms as an MLA. His younger brother, Dibyendu, is serving his second term in Lok Sabha after winning two Assembly elections.
Though Suvendu Adhikari has not made any comment against his party directly but has been taking digs at unnamed rivals while attending one event after another under apolitical banners, often avoiding programmes held under the party’s banner.
However, barely two days after one of his fiery speeches from his home turf of Nandigram, at an event to commemorate a significant event during the land agitation, was widely perceived as his salvos at his own party, Adhikari on Thursday added a further twist to the tale by referring to Mamata Banerjee as “amader netri” or our leader, though without naming her, for the first time in several weeks. He was also heard saying “amader dol”, or our party, while referring to the TMC.
While the BJP’s state unit leaders have publicly invited Adhikari to their party, a section of Adhikari’s followers said that he may well launch his platform if the rift with his party does not narrow.
According to a senior TMC leader, the party is taking measured steps in dealing with Adhikari.
“Adhikari can do to our party worse than what Chirag Paswan did to Nitish Kumar. Even worse, he can do what Jyotiraditya Scindia did to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh,” a senior Bengal minister said, requesting anonymity.
“Channel of communications is still open,” the leader said.
Another minister said that the chief minister has been in touch with Sisir Adhikari, a self-proclaimed “uncompromising Mamata-loyalist”.
Despite repeated attempts, Manna could not be contacted. No senior TMC leader agreed to speak on the issue, saying the party’s top leadership was dealing with the matters. Adhikari said on November 10 that he will deliver his political message from a political platform but as of Thursday night, he only had apolitical events scheduled over the next few days.
At the root of these recent troubles are organizational changes at every level of the party during which several Adhikari-loyalists were removed from prominent positions in different district committees, even though he has been included in the party’s top decision-making body.