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Trinamool shifts attention to infighting in party units after minister quits

Hours after former India cricketer and Bengal’s deputy sports minister Laxmi Ratan Shukla resigned from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), infighting in several district units of the party once again came under focus on Tuesday.

Calling Shukla a “good boy”, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said he had quit to pursue sports. “He said in his letter that he wants to leave politics and give more time to sports. There is nothing more to this. There is no place for misunderstanding here,” said Banerjee.

The TMC chief’s assertions however did not stop the dissent in Howrah district where forest minister Rajib Banerjee, the two-time MLA from Domjur, has been raising his voice against a section of leaders and avoiding government and party events since September. He did not attend Tuesday’s cabinet meeting as well and reportedly informed the leadership that he was unwell. Shukla is the Howrah North MLA.

Another high-profile lawmaker, Vaishali Dalmiya, who represents Howrah’s Bally assembly seat and, like Shukla, joined politics in 2016, said during a live television show on Tuesday evening that there are “termites in the TMC who are breaking the party from within”.

“There are some former civic body councillors and block presidents who did not perform and now their only job is to humiliate sincere MLAs and MPs. I have prepared a file on them. The party must deal with these people strictly,” she said.

Vaishali is the daughter of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Kolkata-based businessman who served as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). He was the BCCI president till his death in 2015.

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Another TMC leader and former mayor of Howrah, Rathin Chakraborty, too, spoke out. “The TMC is going through a turmoil and many sincere leaders and party workers are not being given the opportunity to work,” he quipped.

Shukla, Dalmiya or Chakraborty made no mention of joining the Bharatiya Janata Party like former minister Suvendu Adhikari and six other lawmakers and a Lok Sabha member who were welcomed into the saffron camp by Union home minister Amit Shah on December 9. Yet, Bengal BJP leaders said Howrah is just one of the districts where they were waiting for an exodus from the ruling party.

“Several TMC leaders and MLAs from Howrah, Nadia and South 24 Parganas are waiting to switch sides. It is only a matter of time,” a senior state BJP leader told HT on condition of anonymity.

Differences in the TMC’s Howrah district came to the fore in mid-July last year when the tussle between two ministers, Rajib Banerjee and Arup Roy, over corruption by some local functionaries became an embarrassment for the party.

Rajib Banerjee told the media at that time that some corrupt mid-level leaders were being shielded by the district leadership. Shukla, who has a clean image, was subsequently made the district president.

Reacting to Shukla’s resignation and Dalmiya’s comments on Tuesday, Roy said, “Leaving the party before the polls was not the right thing to do. Also, if any leader has a problem with people in the organisation it should be discussed within the party, not in public.”

TMC spokesperson and deputy parliamentary affairs minister Tapas Roy maintained caution with his comment on the infighting in Howrah. “One must bear in mind that Roy was a student front leader who worked his way up to become a minister. He is a senior leader,” Roy told HT.

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Not willing to be quoted, at least three TMC leaders admitted that infighting is an issue that plagues the organisation in several districts and addressing it before the assembly polls is as urgent as preparing for the elections.

Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha member Abhishek Banerjee on Monday started a five-day tour of the north Bengal districts where the BJP won seven of the region’s eight Lok Sabha seats in 2019. This is the first time he is visiting the region alone and for so many days.

In November, Jagadish Barma Basunia, the legislator from Sitai constituency in Cooch Behar, had spoken in support of Mihir Goswami, the Cooch Behar South MLA who joined the BJP. Basunia also questioned internal changes being made at the recommendation of election strategist Prashant Kishor.

In Murshidabad district, TMC legislator from Hariharpara, Niamot Sheikh openly challenged Kishor’s authority at a rally in November. “Prashant Kishor is the cause of all trouble. Suvendu Adhikari revived the party in Murshidabad. And now leaders who talk to him are facing action,” Sheikh said at the rally held days before Adhikari joined the BJP.

Interestingly, BJP leaders said they are in touch with Dipak Haldar, the legislator from Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district which is a segment in Abhishek Banerjee’s Lok Sabha constituency. Haldar could not be contacted despite several attempts.

“TMC will eventually collapse because it was formed with the sole purpose of ousting the CPI(M)-led government. Once that purpose was served in 2011 the party was left with no agenda. Without comprehensive idealism no party can sustain for long,” BJP state vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar told HT on Tuesday night.

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