Ten MLAs, including seven from the Trinamool Congress, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party during Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s tour of Bengal last week.
High profile TMC rebel, minister and one of the key architects of the Nandigram movement, Suvendu Adhikari, donned the BJP hat at Shah’s rally in Midnapore.
Suvendu, one of the co-founders of the party, is touted to have influence in 50-60 seats as per reports.
Two-time TMC MP from Bardhaman Purba Lok Sabha constituency Suni Mondal, who has been critical of Mamata’s leadership, also joined the party. Other TMC MLAs who switched sides are Banasri Maity, Silbhdrada Dutta, Biswajit Kundu, Sukra Munda and Saikat Panja.
Gajole MLA Dipali Biswas (CPM), Haldia's CPM MLA Tapasi Mandal, Tamluk's CPI MLA Ashok Dinda and Congress MLA from Purulia Sudip Mukherjee also joined the BJP. Former TMC MP Dasarth Tirkey also joined the BJP along with several district level leaders of the party.
Trinamool’s minority cell general secretary Kabirul Islam and Asansol MLA Jitendra Tiwari had quit the party earlier.
Many district level leaders of Left and Congress including former minister Shyamaprasad Mukherjee also joined the BJP.
Taunting Didi at the rally Shah said by the time elections get over Mamata will be left alone. Shah promised that BJP would realise the dream of Sonar Bangla in five years if it is voted to power.
BJP has set an ambitious target of 200 seats in West Bengal. The assembly has a strength of 294 MLAs. BJP was leading in 123 assembly segments in 2019 general elections.
While the BJP is in serious contention to win, having relegated the Left Front to a non-entity during the general elections, it has a big problem up its sleeve. It doesn't have winnable candidates on all the 294 seats. A similar problem was faced by the party during 2014 assembly elections of Maharashtra.
Amit Shah’s policy in these matters is very clear. When you don't have internal candidates who can win, you poach winnable candidates from other parties.
A similar strategy followed in Uttar Pradesh elections of 2017. Many high profile leaders of opposition including Swami Prasad Maurya (BSP), Rita Bahuguna Joshi (Congress), Brajesh Pathak (BSP) to name a few.
A rebellion of sorts has been brewing up in the TMC since the setback in 2019 lok sabha elections where BJP made significant inroads riding on the Modi factor.
Many leaders are not happy with the growing influence of Mamata’s nephew in the party. He has slowly and steadily taken control over the organisation which has irked the old guard within the party.
Some senior leaders don't see a future in the party with Abhishek Banerjee calling the shots.
TMC taking a dynastic turn is not what many had hoped for when they formed / joined the party.
The entry of political strategist Prashant Kishor as campaign manager of TMC has also irked some senior leaders. He may have rubbed them the wrong way. Abhishek has brought in Prashant to manage TMC’s campaign for 2021 state elections.
Some leaders fear that they could be denied tickets, hence jumping ship. Some feel that BJP is going to win the polls, hence they want to be on the victorious side.
Leaders like employees of any company do evaluate the prospects of the party before taking such decisions. The prospects of TMC do not look as bright as during the 2016 state elections.
That said, seven MLAs leaving TMC out of more than 200 MLAs it has is not a very big number. There could be purely personal reasons behind this exodus. Will this lead to an exodus at a much bigger scale, remains to be seen?
While in elections, state level anti-incumbency is often talked about, local level anti-incumbency against MLAs also play a big role.
The BJP while admitting these leaders needs to be cautious of this fact and be choosy while welcoming them. Leaders who do not have a good reputation and chance of winning should be denied entry as instead of providing a boost it could mar its prospects.
Elections are a lot about perception and an exodus doesn’t bode well for the TMC and is bad optics for the party, though it is countering that these leaders who are leaving are dead wood, selling out their soul and are taking this step due to fear of central agencies.
Such exodus influences the voting pattern of undecided and swing voters. That’s why TMC should take immediate efforts to douse rebellion and control exits.
It’s often said that no one understands which way the wind is blowing than leaders. Will these rebels fan a bigger churn in TMC and help BJP unseat Mamata? Only time will tell...