It was at Kolkata's Netaji Indoor Stadium during the Trinamool Congress (TMC) organisational meet on April 21, 2017, when Mamata Banerjee, in the middle of her speech against alleged heavy-handedness by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), suddenly asked, "Where is Suvendu?"
The chief minister noticed Suvendu's absence when she asked her MPs and MLAs (chargesheeted in the Narada sting case) to stand up on the dais. All of them immediately stood up, but Mamata found Suvendu (also named in the CBI chargesheet) missing.
One of the party leaders told her that he (Suvendu Adhikari) was not well and Mamata continued her speech without pushing the matter further. But, his absence gave a strong signal that everything was not going well within the party’s structure.
A few months later, in September 2017, Suvendu was examined by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Narada case.
Suvendu was the key man behind Mamata Banerjee’s movement in Nandigram in East Midnapore in 2007 which helped her end the 34-year rule of the Left Front in Bengal. Over the years, Mamata also gave due respect to him and his family members for their dedication towards the party.
Since then, Suvendu was known as one of the most powerful leaders in the party but insiders said he was not happy with the "attitude" of a few TMC leaders. However, despite that he decided to work hard for the party only on "Mamata’s instructions".
In March 2020, when election strategist Prashant Kishor’s ‘barcoded’ meeting chaired by Mamata was boycotted by some important TMC leaders and ground workers at Netaji Indoor Stadium, it once again sent out a strong signal of resentment among party members.
Then, amid political drama in Madhya Pradesh after Jyotiraditya Scindia tendered his resignation from the primary membership of the Congress party and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, a tweet from BJP leader Anupam Hazra sent ripples in the TMC camp.
"There are reports that the Congress leadership is trying to get in touch with Jyotiraditya Scindia but they failed. Then he resigned from the Congress party. I feel that now Didi (Mamata Banerjee) should check whether she is getting Suvendu (Suvendu Adhikari) on the phone or not. She should intensify her checking,” the tweet said.
When contacted, a senior TMC leader said, “It is difficult to say why party leaders are angry but certainly things have changed after the induction of Abhishek Banerjee and hiring of poll strategist Prashant Kishor in the party. Party leaders only want to listen to Didi’s command and no one else and here lies the problem, as command and instructions are coming from others.”
While the party was struggling with the internal rift, Mamata quietly implemented a ‘system-driven assessment plan’ in Trinamool Congress to identify ‘non-performing assets’, ‘corrupt party leaders’ and assessing leaders in 'real time' (based on Kishor’s suggestion).
The situation turned bitter recently, after Mamata sprung a surprise by issuing show-cause notices to nearly 200 TMC workers and leaders from Nandigram alone – the area which Suvendu is emotionally connected with in East Midnapore.
Despite receiving complaints of a ‘ration scam’ from all over the districts, Mamata’s wrath against these 200 people drew the attention of political experts in the state.
Amid speculation over Suvendu’s stand in the party, he once again put the TMC in an uncomfortable situation after he gave a miss to a government programme in Jhargram on August 9, 2020, to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
He was supposed to address the official occasion along with state education minister and Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee, but instead he attended another private event at nearby Sido Kanhu Hall at Sialgeria Maidan in the same district.
“I have been coming to this district since 2009. I have fond memories of this place when I used to travel by bicycle to attend adivasi festivals. I was with you and I will always remain with you," Suvendu had said, while distributing sports items to adivasi youths.
Responding to Suvendu’s absence, Partha Chatterjee said, “I don’t want any debate on this issue. I would have been happy if Suvendu had made it to this event.”
Since 2017, Suvendu missing crucial party meetings has created discomfort in the Trinamool as many feel that such a gesture may go against them ahead of the crucial assembly polls in the state in 2021.
Similar resentment was also seen before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Many TMC leaders had expressed their disappointment when Mamata announced the list of 42 candidates after dropping 10 sitting MPs to induct 18 new faces. Senior party functionaries like Soumitra Khan, Anupam Hazra and Arjun Singh had openly rebelled and switched to the BJP. That came as a major blow for the ruling camp in Bengal as Khan and Singh managed to win the Bishnupur and Barrackpore Lok Sabha seats, respectively, on BJP tickets. Only Anupam Hazra, who was expelled from the party on January 9, 2019, for anti-party activities, had lost to TMC’s Mimi Chakraborty.
The last nail in the coffin was the recent reshuffle in the Trinamool on July 23, 2020,when most of the old guard including Suvendu were replaced with new faces and put in charge of districts.