April 21, 2007, Sonachura, Nandigram: It’s not a market day but a motley crowd of villagers thronged the main road stretching from Tekhali Bazar to Sonachura. A young man in his early thirties, wearing a kurta pajama, was speaking into a hand-held microphone.
He was none other than Suvendu Adhikari, who spearheaded the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram, which catapulted Mamata Banerjee onto the political centre stage of Bengal.
Cut to 2016: Subhendu Adhikari is Mamata Banerjee’s main man as Trinamool Congress forays into remaining strongholds of the Left and Congress.
From the fields of Nandigram to Jangalmahal, where he spread Trinamool Congress’s base, to the last Congress bastion of Malda and Murshidabad — Suvendu Adhikari is turning out to be an all-weather, all-terrain asset for the ruling party.
It was in June last year that Mamata Banerjee gave the responsibility of denting the last remaining Congress fortress in Murshidabad and Malda to Suvendu Adhikari. Incidentally, Murshidabad is the stronghold of state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury and Malda is that of the Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s family.
Now one by one Trinamool Congress is wresting municipal bodies from Congress in Malda and Murshidabad. This is apart from zilla parishad, panchayat samity seats and gram panchayats.
“I have tried to do my best like the remaining party leaders and workers under Mamata Banerjee. Murshidabad is no longer a Congress stronghold. The people are with us. Our vote share was 18% in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. We are aiming to reach the target of 46% vote share (what Trinamool got in this assembly polls) in the Congress strongholds during the upcoming panchayat polls in 2018,” said Suvendu Adhikari, who is the transport minister.
“We are hopeful of becoming the number one party soon in what were Congress strongholds for years,” added Adhikari.
After Nandigram, Suvendu was given the charge of Jangalmahal, the districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. He successfully expanded the party’s base against CPI(M) cadres in the three districts where they were considered formidable.
Before the 2016 assembly polls, Mamata announced that Adhikari, who was a Lok Sabha MP, will contest in the polls and be given a cabinet berth later. She made Adhikari the transport minister, one of the most important portfolios.
In the past couple of months, one by one, Congress leaders and elected members of panchayats have been making a beeline for the Trinamool Congress at the grassroots level. Out of the seven municipalities in Murshidabad, Trinamool now controls four — Dhulian, Jangipur, Jiagunj and Beldanga.
Trinamool also has a majority in Kandi but the matter is being heard by Calcutta High Court.
The ruling party also controls 108 panchayat seats (a jump from just 10 in the 2013 panchayat polls), 29 out of 70 zilla parishad seats.
Fifteen members from the Congress, Left Front and Samajwadi Party in the 38-seat Malda zilla parishad on Thursday joined the Trinamool at Trinamool Bhawan in Kolkata.
In the Siliguri and Jalpaiguri municipalities, Left members are now making a beeline for the Trinamool Congress.