When TMC leader Suvendu Adhikari resigned from the post of State Transport Minister on Friday, the political circle of Bengal went into a state of frenzy. Rumours are rife that Suvendu Adhikari may leave the party, a move that in the opinion of many experts, will be a big blow to the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress party, especially when the state Assembly election is at the doorstep.
It is widely believed that Suvendu Adhikari is the most prominent leader to rebel against the ruling party in Bengal since the agitation of Mukul Roy, who was once a close aid of Mamata Banerjee. Like Mukul Roy, Suvendu too is considered instrumental behind the rise of Mamata Banerjee as a prominent leader, and regarded as one of the leading contributors behind TMC's landslide victory in the 2011 Assembly election that pushed the then-dominant Left Front in the state to the brink of extinction.
Adhikari first rose in the Bengal's political hierarchy in 2006, when he was elected to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly from Kanthi Dakshin constituency. In that year, he also became the chairman of Kanthi Municipal Corporation, strengthening his base.
Read: West Bengal transport minister Suvendu Adhikari, erstwhile close aid of Mamata Banerjee, resigns
But it was the Nandigram movement, that catapulted him to the limelight and made him one of the trusted lieutenants of Mamata Banerjee. It was also a movement that marked the decline of the CPI(M)-led Left Front government.
In 2007, the then state government decided that a chemical hub in Nandigram would be established by the Salim Group of Indonesia. The government planned to acquire 10,000 acres of land in the village to set up a special economic zone (SEZ). The farmers gathered under the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), which was allegedly supported by the Maoists, and rebelled against the acquisition. To quell the protest, police entered Nandigram and violence between them and the protesters ensued. It resulted in the death of at least 14 villagers and injured 70 people.
Later, on March 14, 2007, over 3,000 police officers went to Nandigram to dismantle the BUPC under the orders of the state government. BUPC managed to gather about 5,000 villagers and blocked the entrances of Nandigram. In the subsequent mayhem, at least 200 people died. The incident was widely condemned in the state, with famous personalities like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Aparna Sen and Rituporno Ghosh criticising the government's action and social activist Medha Patkar visiting Nandigram to protest against the land acquisition.
And it was Adhikari who was at the forefront of the anti-land-acquisition movement in the Nandigram. Even though the state CID alleged that Adhikari had supplied arms to the Maoists to wage an armed uprising, it did not thwart his rise as a formidable leader with an excellent network among the ground-level workers. He headed the BUPC and led the protesters against the state police.
Also read: BJP door open for Suvendu Adhikari: Dilip Ghosh
Banerjee made him the party's observer (in-charge) of the Maoist-infested Jangal Mahal i.e. Paschim Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura districts after the successful movement, and he expanded the party's base in these districts. In 2009, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Tamluk constituency, in which he defeated the erstwhile formidable political leader in Bengal, Lakshman Seth of CPI(M), by a margin of approximately 1.73 lakh votes.
In the 2016 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, Adhikari defeated Abdul Kadir Sheikh of the Left Front-Congress alliance and on May 27, he took oath as the Minister of Transport.
Suevndu Adhikari is a force to reckon with in the districts of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, Jharghram, Murshidabad and Malda. He is a popular leader at the grass-root level and has been crucial in maintaining TMC's stronghold in these regions. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's repeated efforts to pacify him further highlights his importance to the party. Especially with Dilip Ghosh proclaiming that BJP will welcome Adhikari with open arms in case he decides to join the saffron party, the pressure has further increased on TMC to plug the hole and retain him within their folds. The chief minister knows that even though her party had been able to cope with Mukul Roy's exit, Adhikari's departure will bring with it a whole new challenge, at a time when the strength of her popularity is facing a litmus test.
It will be interesting to see how the Suvendu Adhikari saga unfolds in the coming days. For years later, people can look back and describe this phase as the one that played a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of West Bengal Assembly elections 2021.