The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central leadership appears to have decided to make Suvendu Adhikari the face of the party in Bengal to lead the charge against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Adhikari, who defeated Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram and is now the leader of the opposition (LOP), has been one of the very few BJP leaders in the state who has displayed spunk and mobilised partymen to resist brutal attacks on them.
Almost all other BJP leaders, save for some like Barrackpore Lok Sabha MP Arjun Singh and Cooch Behar MP Nishit Pramanik, had silently retreated into their shells when alleged Trinamool goons unleashed unspeakable horrors on BJP workers and supporters.
Apart from displaying the courage to stand up to the Trinamool’s attacks and organise resistance against Trinamool in Nandigram and other parts of his home turf Purba Medinipur, Adhikari has also emerged as the most prominent BJP MLA after having defeated the Trinamool supremo.
Compared to other BJP leaders who appear tired, uninspiring and fainthearted, Adhikari comes across as dynamic and possesses the required grit and courage to challenge the Trinamool.
That’s because Adhikari is a veteran of the violent Nandigram movement, which catapulted Banerjee to power. Adhikari organised the peasants there to resist the CPI(M) cadres.
It was because of the well-organised resistance put up by the peasants that the Nandigram movement against the acquisition of land by the then Left Front government for setting up a chemical hub there succeeded.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front government had to accept defeat ultimately and shelve its land acquisition plans, and that set the Trinamool firmly on the path to winning the Assembly poll in 2011.
Though Banerjee was the face of the Nandigram movement, it was Adhikari who played a critical role. Hadn’t it been for Adhikari, the movement would never have succeeded.
Having successfully faced and repulsed CPI(M) cadres who were much more organised than Trinamool cadre, Adhikari is thus best placed to lead the BJP’s resistance to Trinamool’s attacks.
Adhikari, like Mukul Roy (who was virtually the second-in-command in the Trinamool before he joined the BJP in November 2017) before him, has the added advantage of having an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Trinamool.
That knowledge is crucial for countering the TMC. Adhikari has been in active politics—first as a councillor of Contai municipality and then as its chairman, an MLA, an MP and also a senior minister—for many years now and is grounded in realpolitik, unlike most other BJP leaders.
Having been in opposition and also in the ruling party, Adhikari is a seasoned politician who knows how the wheels of politics turn in Bengal. Few other BJP leaders in Bengal can lay claim to that.
During the high-voltage campaign for the Assembly polls, Adhikari emerged as one of the most prominent state-level campaigners of the BJP. His ability to attract crowds outside his Purba Medinipur bastion was impressive and established him as a leader with a pan-Bengal appeal.
Adhikari organisational skills are well-known, and even when he was in the Trinamool, Banerjee entrusted him with the responsibility of overseeing party affairs in many other districts.
Adhikari, like Mukul Roy, has a good grassroots connect all over Bengal and his interpersonal and communication skills are stellar. Most other BJP leaders, including those who hold the seniormost positions at the state level, woefully lack these skills.
“Adhikari has all the skills required of a good politician. He is an inspiring figure, can enthuse workers and masses, is a good orator and communicator, and is bold and tough. He doesn’t shy away from a fight and is one of the few leaders who can take the Trinamool bull by its horns,” admitted a senior BJP leader who holds an organisational post.
It is in recognition of all these qualities and his conduct in the immediate aftermath of the electoral debacle suffered by the BJP in the state that the central party leadership decided to make Adhikari the leader of opposition in the state Assembly.
Adhikari, thus, was given the vital responsibility of leading the BJP’s charge against the Trinamool within the state Assembly.
It now appears that the BJP top leadership has decided to give Adhikari the responsibility of playing a crucial role outside the Assembly as well.
Adhikari met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the latter’s official residence in New Delhi for almost 45 minutes on Wednesday (9 June). The two are said to have discussed the terrible law and order situation in Bengal and other issues related to the state.
What is significant is that Modi tweeted about the meeting with Adhikari from his official handle. Modi has seldom tweeted his meetings with any other BJP leader, including chief ministers; he generally reserves that honour for visiting heads of state or governments or prominent non-political personas.
“This shows not only the importance the top leadership attaches to Adhikari’s meetings with top central leaders, but also sends a firm message to the state unit of the party that Adhikari has the complete backing of the central leadership,” said the senior state BJP leader.
Adhikari also met party national president J.P.Nadda, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
Those were not courtesy calls on central leaders. Each meeting lasted for over 40 minutes, and various issues pertaining to Bengal were discussed.
The central leadership, it is learnt, wanted to know from Adhikari how the Trinamool’s attacks can be countered and how the BJP can pull itself together and strengthen itself in Bengal over the next three years time for the 2024 general elections.
What is also very significant is that no other state leader, including state president Dilip Ghosh, knew about Adhikari’s visit to Delhi.
“Usually, only state presidents or chief ministers can go and meet the central leadership, especially the party national president, Amit Shah or Modi directly. Others have to normally seek appointments (with the central leadership) through the state president. In Adhikari’s case, that has not happened and this clearly shows that the central leadership is sending a strong message to the state unit that Adhikari is the ‘chosen one’ in Bengal,” said the BJP leader.
Bengal BJP president Ghosh had, while speaking to reporters, admitted with no little irritation and resentment that he had no knowledge of Adhikari’s visit to Delhi.
Ghosh, it is believed, may not complete his entire tenure (it ends in 2025) as the state party chief.
Adhikari is likely to face a lot of opposition from BJP old-timers who do not take kindly to entrants from other parties.
The BJP central leadership is aware of such opposition. And that is why the party’s top leadership, including PM Modi, sent out such a clear signal to the party leaders and karyakartas in Bengal.
The BJP top leadership has reportedly asked Adhikari to take the party, and old-timers in Bengal, along with him and pay heed to the sensitivities of old-timers.
But there seems to be no confusion that Adhikari will lead the fightback against the Trinamool. That is, undoubtedly, a pragmatic decision based on ground realities. What should, ultimately, matter for the BJP is staging a turnaround and gaining strength in Bengal.
Improving the tally of 18 Lok Sabha seats that the BJP won in Bengal is, after all, critical for the party in 2024. And Adhikari is the best person to deliver on that goal now.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.