(Eds: Collates related stories) By Jatin Takkar Midnapore (WB), Dec 19 (PTI) Suvendu Adhikari, the mascot of the Nandigram movement, Saturday joined the BJP with nine MLAs and a TMC MP, in a huge morale booster for the saffron party that prompted Home Minister Amit Shah to mockingly declare Mamata Banerjee will be left alone in her party by the time assembly elections are held.
Adhikari, by far the foremost mass leader in the state after Banerjee, had resigned from the cabinet, the assembly, and the TMC, setting off speculations about his joining the BJP, which has emerged as a strong contender to power in the politically volatile state ahead of the assembly elelctions that are likely in April-May 2021.
The once TMC satrap, whose family holds sway over around 35-40 seats in the Jangalmahal region and adjoining districts, can potentially harm Banerjee's bid for a third straight term in office.
His father Sisir Adhikari and brother Dibyendu are Lok Sabha members and another sibling is an MLA.
Though others from the Adhikari family did not join the BJP on Saturday, they will likely hold firm behind Suvendu Adhikari, sources close to them said.
Others who joined the BJP at a rally addressed by Shah included a two-term TMC MP from Bardhaman East constituency Sunil Mondal, Trinamool Congress MLAs Banasri Maity, Silbhdrada Dutta, Biswajit Kundu, Sukra Munda and Saikat Panja, CPI(M)'s Tapasi Mandal, CPI's Ashok Dinda and Congress lawmaker Sudip Mukherjee.
Dipali Biswas, who had won the Gajole seat in 2016 on a CPI(M) ticket but joined the TMC in 2018, was also inducted into the BJP.
'The way leaders are deserting your party, by the time elections are held Mamata Banerjee will be left alone in the TMC,' a beaming Shah told a BJP rally in Midnapore, an Adhikari family stronghold.
He alleged the The TMC's slogan of 'Maa, Mati, Manush' (mother, motherland and people) has been reduced to 'extortion, corruption and nepotism', resulting in alienation of the masses from the TMC.
A buoyant Shah asserted the BJP will form the next government in the state winning more than 200 seats. West Bengal has a 294-member assembly.
Adhikari, the masterful architect of the Nandigram movement against forcible land acquisition by the then Left Front government for industrialisation that catapulted Banerjee to power for the first time in 2011, vowed to ensure her defeat.
In a speech peppered with pathos, Adhikari recalled how Shah had called him up when he was down with COVID-19.
'I had first met Amit Shah during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls... When I was down with COVID, my former party did not enquire about my health, while Amit Shah twice rang me up to know how I am,' he told the rally.
He extolled the BJP for its core value of nationalism, and insisted that the saffron party believed in pluralism.
Adhikari deprecated Banerjee's repeated reference to the BJP as a 'party of outsiders' who don't understand the principle of inclusivity intrinsic to Bengali culture.
'Shame on the TMC for such narrow politics,' Adhikari said as the crowd roared in approval.
'I am being called a traitor by those who themselves (TMC) are traitors,' he said, apparently referring to Banerjee breaking away from the Congress, and endorsing the BJP's accusation of 'Muslim appeasement' against her.
Shah's show today was as much about Adhikari and the potential benefits his joining the BJP could have for the party as it was to portray the saffron party's integration with the people of a state where it was a fringe player a decade ago.
Described often as the architect of the BJP's exponential growth when he was the party president, Shah, before addressing the rally in Midnapore, visited places linked to Bengali cultural and religious icons in an apparent gesture to trash the outsider tag.
His first port of call was Swami Vivekananda's ancestral home in Kolkata where he lauded the saint- philosopher for taking India's culture and ethos to the world.
'Swami Vivekananda took India's culture, vision and ethos to the world. He bridged the gap between spirituality and modernity. After visiting his birthplace, I feel his ideals are still relevant in the present-day world. Rather, his ideals are more needed in the present times,' he said.
His next stop was the ancestral home of the boy martyr of the freedom struggle Khudiram Bose in Midnapore. Bose was executed in 1908 when he was just 18 years old.
'I want to tell those who are doing narrow politics in Bengal that Khudiram Bose is as much a pride of India as he is of Bengal,' he asserted, attacking those who indulge in 'politics of regionalism', an apparent allusion to Mamata Banerjee.
During a visit loaded with symbolism, Shah had lunch with senior BJP leaders at the home of a farmer at Balijhuri near Midnapore, while agriculturists continued their protest at Delhi's borders.
Seated on a floor mat, Shah was seen savouring a humble meal of boiled rice, daal and vegetables on a plate made of leaves on the verandah of Sanatan Singh's home painted in bright green and white.
All the while, women standing outside ulululated and men blew conch shells, traditionally signifying the beginning of a battle and victory. PTI JTR PNT AMR SUS SK SK SK