Suvendu Adhikari, who was among the most prominent Trinamool Congress leaders, on Saturday joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. At a mega rally in Midnapore district, Shah welcomed Adhikari into the saffron party and took a swipe at West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Besides Adhikari, six MLAs of the Trinamool Congress, one each from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Congress also joined the BJP, according to PTI. Two-time TMC MP from Bardhaman Purba Lok Sabha constituency Sunil Mondal also defected to the BJP.

Addressing the rally, Shah said the tsunami of defections, which he was witnessing in West Bengal, would leave Banerjee alone by the time elections are held in the state next year. “Why are so many people leaving Trinamool Congress,” he asked. “Because of the misrule, corruption and nepotism of Mamata Banerjee. Didi, this is just the beginning. By the time elections come, you will be left all alone.”

He also claimed that the chief minister was busy trying to ensure that her nephew Abhishek Banerjee takes her post next. Shah, who is on a two-day visit to West Bengal, declared that the BJP will win more than 200 seats in the 2021 Assembly elections. West Bengal has a 294-member Assembly.

BJP’s West Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya, Vice President Mukul Roy and the party’s state unit chief Dilip Ghosh were also present at the rally. Along with Adhikari, who represents the Nandigram Assembly seat, the other MLAs who switched sides are Banasri Maity, Silbhdrada Dutta, Biswajit Kundu, Sukra Munda, Dipali Biswas and Saikat Panja.

Adhikari, addressing the rally, said he was joining the BJP to work as an ordinary worker. “The economic condition of West Bengal is in a very bad state,” he said. “If the state has to be salvaged, its reins need to be handed over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

The rebel leader also claimed that he has had a long association with Shah. “I have been loved like a brother by the BJP,” he said. “When I contracted the coronavirus, no one from the TMC for whom I have given my life, asked me how I was. But Amit Shah did, twice.”

He further said that the Trinamool Congress had becomed an “individual centric party” and warned that the party will no longer be in a position to represent the people of West Bengal.

Adhikari’s open letter to TMC members

In an open letter addressed to the grassroots members of the Trinamool Congress, Adhikari wrote that West Bengal is standing at a critical juncture ahead of the elections. He said “an extremely deep rot and malaise” has set in his former party led by Banerjee.

“Neither West Bengal nor the Trinamool Congress is anyone’s fiefdom,” Adhikari said, without directly naming anyone.

He added that the Trinamool Congress was not built in one day with the contribution of just one person. “The party is now filled with individuals who do not bother about anyone but themselves,” he claimed. “The very people on the backs of whom the party was created are now being sidelined, humiliated and outcast. In their stead, the individuals have now hired external assistance, people with no knowledge of ground realities and no knowledge of the sacrifice it actually takes to work for a shared goal as ambitious as creating the West Bengal of our dreams.”

Adhikari, a two-term MP, had been in charge of the TMC in several districts, including Malda, Murshidabad, Purulia and Bankura. The 49-year-old-leader has a crucial support base in the state. He was also the face of the Trinamool Congress in the 2008 Nandigram movement, which by many accounts, was a major factor in the unseating of the Left Front government in the state in 2011.

Adhikari resigned from all the positions he held in the Trinamool Congress on December 17. He, however, did not specify any reason, and thanked the party chairperson for “challenges and opportunities” presented to him. This came a day after he resigned as a member of the Legislative Assembly and almost 20 days after he resigned as West Bengal transport minister. He had quit from the post of chairperson of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners too.

He has been accorded a “Z” category security cover by the Narendra Modi government.