In the run-up to the seven-phase elections in West Bengal held between 27 March and 29 April 2021, All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) leaders had deserted the party for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The most sensational defection was by senior AITC leader Suvendu Adhikari, who went on to defeat Mamata Banerjee in the Nandigram constituency and is now the leader of the opposition in the West Bengal assembly.
But only six of the 148 defectors could win on BJP tickets. That coupled with the AITC’s landslide victory and the prospect of five years in the wilderness made a return inevitable for many of them. On 11 June, Mukul Roy who had left the AITC for the BJP in 2017, returned to the fold.
Mamata Banerjee was ready to open the party doors to the Trinamool turncoats after she returned to power with a landslide majority on 3 May. And as expected, days after her victory, there was a deluge of applications and social media posts from former party workers who wanted to return to the fold.
The reverse exodus looked imminent. Defectors like Rajib Banerjee, Sabyasachi Dutta, Sonali Guha and Prabir Ghosal, who had lost their seats in the assembly poll, started reconnecting with AITC leaders, expecting to be taken back like Mukul. But it was not as easy as they thought.
Mamata has decided to go slow on the leaders till a consensus builds up for them in the AITC. This is because, at some point or the other, these leaders had bad-mouthed the party and the leadership. Moreover, by deserting the party with just a few months left for the polls, they had set a bad example for the die-hard AITC supporters and workers.
While Mamata is sceptical about the leaders, the doors are open for party workers. About 300 of them in Birbhum were allowed re-entry. Huge numbers were welcomed back in North 24 Parganas, Mukul’s home district. And the number of returnees is swelling by the day.
But why this reverse migration? The principal reason is the BJP’s failure in coming to power. Career politicians and their supporters don’t want to sit it out in the wilderness.
Moreover, the rift between the original BJP supporters and the Trinamool defectors has been growing with party veterans blaming the new entrants for the electoral debacle. Mukul’s departure, after hanging around in the BJP for four years, has given the BJP old guard even more reason to treat the defectors with suspicion. “It’s becoming very difficult to carry on. Mukulda has made us all traitors in the eyes of the BJP. Except for Suvendu and a few others, the general credibility of the defectors is low,” says a Trinamool leader who is now with the BJP.
On the one hand, there’s an air of suspicion and on the other, with Suvendu calling shots in the assembly as the Opposition leader as well as outside, many turncoats are feeling claustrophobic. “By giving too much importance to Suvendu and his coterie, the party has lent credence to the allegation that the BJP has become a B-team of the Trinamool. Instead of taking orders from Suvendu, we might as well take orders from the Trinamool supremo,” says another defector looking to cross over. Suvendu, always known to be an autocrat, is now running the BJP MLAs like his fief. Many who have defected from Trinamool see traces of Mamata in his style of functioning.
But all said and done, the re-entry might not be easy.
Mamata needs foot soldiers but she can do without the turncoat leaders, especially those who were rejected by the people in the election. Mamata sees no gain in taking them in. She would rather poach BJP MLAs to increase her party’s strength and weaken the Opposition in the assembly.
Mukul has been asked to bring in BJP MLAs and the six Trinamool turncoats (barring Suvendu) who managed to win in the election.
With many polls, municipality and corporation, still to happen, Mamata needs to watch her step. She cannot crowd Trinamool with turncoat leaders whom she had shrugged off as rubbish and malcontents earlier.
Moreover, there’s strong reservation within the party against many of these leaders being inducted. With Mukul, it was a different ball game. By describing him as “ghorer chele” (the boy from the family), she’s given a new spin to the defection business, raising questions about the tactics of BJP stalwarts like Kailash Vijayvargiya who had earlier latched on to the idea that defections from the ruling party were the only way to weaken the Trinamool and win Bengal. With Mamata acknowledging Mukul’s worth by giving him the ghorer chele epithet, she might have raised expectations, but no certainty. She’ll review if the prodigal children had remained loyal to the parent party or as ghorer chele, even while they were in the BJP.
Article by Romita Datta syndicated from the RSS feed of India Today