Suvendu quits Mamata cabinet, BJP says 'beginning of the end' for TMC

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(Eds: inserts a new 5th para) Kolkata, Nov 27 (PTI) Suvendu Adhikari, the face of the Nandigram movement that added to the political heft of Mamata Banerjee and catapulted her to power in West Bengal, resigned from her cabinet on Friday, setting off speculation that he may quit the ruling TMC ahead of the state assembly polls next year.

The BJP, meanwhile, got a boost when TMC MLA from Coochbehar East Mihir Goswami quit and joined the saffron party in New Delhi.

Adhikari, said to be unhappy over organisational changes in the Trinamool Congress and the growing clout of election strategist Prashant Kishor and Banerjee's nephew Abhishek, the Lok Sabha MP from Diamond Harbour, in the decision making process of the Mamata government, tendered his resignation from the cabinet which was accepted hours later by Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.

'I do hereby tender my resignation from my office as Minister. Steps may be taken for its immediate acceptance. I am simultaneously by e-mail (sending) this to His Excellency- Governor of West Bengal, for doing the needful at his end,' Adhikari said in the resignation letter.

The Nandigram movement was a public protest in 2007 against the then Left Front government's move to acquire farm land to set up a Special Economic Zone. Scores of people had died in inter-party conflict and police action to subdue the agitation.

The BJP, which seeks to wrest West Bengal from the TMC in the assembly polls likely in April-May next year, claimed Adhikari's resignation was the 'beginning of the end' of the TMC, and said if a leader of the masses like him join the saffron party, it will benefit both.

Adhikari, by far the biggest mass leader in the TMC after Mamata Banerjee, wields great influence in East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and parts of Birbhum district. His father Sisir Adhikari and brother Dibyendu are both MPs. Suvendu himself is a two-time former Lok Sabha member.

Suvendu Adhikari, political analysts say, can influence the election outcome in as many as 35-40 seats in these districts, and damage Banerjee's prospects, as she seeks a third straight term in office.

Suvendu Adhikari has so far desisted from laying his cards on the table about whether he will join the BJP or float his own outfit, but acceptance of his resignation, on the recommendation of Mamata Banerjee, is being seen as a prelude to his parting of ways with the TMC.

Adhikari, who held the transport, irrigation and waterways portfolios, also resigned as the chairman of the Haldia Development Authority, the agency that oversees development work in the industrial town of Haldia and its adjoining areas in East Midnapore district.

On Wednesday, he had resigned as the chairman of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC), which is the custodian of several bridges and flyovers of Kolkata, including the iconic Second Hooghly Bridge.

Adhikari also returned the Z-category security cover provided by the state government.

The BJP, which positioned itself as a potential replacement for the TMC winning 18 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats last year against 22 that Banerjee's party won, reacted with expected glee.

'As far as I have seen in (Bengal) politics, Suvendu is one of the finest mass leaders of contemporary times. I have known him for a long time. He is a product of mass movement. If he decides to join the BJP, it will be beneficial for both him and the party,' BJP national Vice President Mukul Roy told reporters.

State BJP chief and Lok Sabha MP Dilip Ghosh went a step ahead, claiming Adhikari's resignation heralded the 'end of Trinamool Congress' and claimed that the party would 'cease to exist'.

'The exit of Suvendu Adhikari from TMC is only a matter of time. There are several leaders of the ruling party who are disgruntled with its way of functioning. We have kept our doors open ... All leaders with self respect will leave TMC,' Ghosh told reporters here.

Drawing analogy from the game of cricket, he said 'A big wicket fell today.' Adhikari's resignation followed failure of back channel talks the TMC had with him through party MPs Sougata Roy and Sudip Badopadhyay, even as the rebel leader went about addressing rallies organised by his supporters without the TMC banner, a rarity for a leader of a party under overwhelming control of Banerjee.

The posters at Adhikari's rally proclaimed 'Dadar Anugami (followers of brother),' a reflection of the rebel leader's popularity.

The TMC brass met at Banerjee's residence and decided that no action will be taken against Adhikari but no further talks will be held with him either.

It was decided that Mamata Banerjee will start touring and holding public meetings in Malda, Murshidabad, Bankura, Purulia and East Midnapore districts, where Adhikari is a force to reckon with, from December 7.

While the TMC grappled with Adhikari's rebellion, party MLA from Coochbehar East Mihir Goswami flew down to the national capital with BJP MP Nisith Pramanik and joined the saffron camp.

The Congress, pushed to the margins in West Bengal, termed Adhikari's rebellion as the TMC's 'final journey towards the end'.

'All of us know the role Suvendu had played in the growth of the TMC and how important he was in the party. His exit indicates that the final journey of the TMC towards the end has begun,' Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and West Bengal president of the party, said. PTI PNT SK SK