(Eds: Edits throughout) Midnapore/Kolkata, Dec 19 (PTI) In the biggest exodus from the TMC on a single day, party heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari and 34 other leaders, including five MLAs and an MP, switched over to the BJP on Saturday, reflecting the unease in West Bengal's ruling party ahead of the assembly elections.
These leaders joined the BJP at a rally Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed in Midnapore, where he taunted TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, saying she will be left alone in her party by the time the assembly elections, due in April-May next year, are held.
Senior TMC leader and spokesperson Saugata Roy described those who joined the BJP as 'traitors and weathercocks', saying that it is good that such elements are leaving the party.
Besides the TMC lawmakers, two CPI(M) MLAs and one each of the CPI and the Congress joined the saffron camp.
According to TMC sources, this is the biggest single- day desertion from the party since Banerjee formed it in 1998 after breaking away from the Congress.
Since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP bagged 18 seats, just four less than the ruling party, 10 TMC MLAs and one each from the Congress and the CPI(M) had switched over to the saffron camp. However, none of them resigned as MLAs.
After the Saturday desertion, 15 MLAs of the TMC, three of the CPI(M) and two belonging to the Congress are with the BJP which had won a meagre six seats in the 294-strong state assembly in 2016.
Adhikari, who was handed over the BJP flag by Shah at a rally at Midnapore, has resigned from the TMC and given up his cabinet posts. He also quit as an MLA but his resignation is yet to be accepted.
Two-time TMC MP from Bardhaman Purba Lok Sabha constituency Sunil Kumar Mondal, who was vocal about his differences with the party leadership recently, also joined the BJP.
Mondal was an MLA of the All India Forward Bloc, a constituent of the Left Front, but switched over to the TMC in 2014.
The five TMC MLAs who joined the BJP at Shah's rally are Banasri Maity, Silbhadra Dutta, Biswajit Kundu, Sukra Munda and Saikat Panja.
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. She has not yet resigned as a CPI(M) MLA.
Haldia's CPI(M) MLA Tapasi Mandal, Tamluk's CPI lawmaker Ashok Dinda and Congress's Purulia MLA Sudip Mukherjee were among those who joined the BJP at the rally.
Former TMC MP Dasarth Tirkey and former minister Shyamaprasad Mukherjee also changed sides.
At least 28 other TMC leaders including ward councillors, Zilla Parishad members and district functionaries also crossed over to the BJP.
A senior TMC leader said the party is apprehensive about more desertions.
'This is the biggest single-day exodus the party has ever faced. When the party fared badly in the 2004 Lok Sabha election, there was desertion. But it was never on this scale. We think more desertions are likely to follow,' the TMC leader told PTI on condition of anonymity.
Adhikari, a former two-time MP and twice MLA, was reportedly unhappy over organisational changes and the growing clout of poll strategist Prashant Kishor and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee, who is a nephew of the chief minister.
Shah took a swipe at Banerjee over the desertions, quipping, 'The way leaders are leaving the party, Mamata Banerjee will be left alone in the TMC by the time elections are held.' 'The kind of Tsunami I see today, you would have never imagined,' an elated Shah said as Adhikari nodded in approval.
Senior TMC leader and party spokesperson Saugata Roy reacted angrily, saying 'They (those who left the party) are traitors and weathercocks. But they will regret their decision as the TMC will return to power with a bigger mandate. It is good that such elements are leaving the party.' CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra said the party had planned to expelled Tapasi Mondal for anti-party activities and an internal inquiry is pending against her.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury termed the growing resentment in the TMC as 'poetic justice'. PTI JTR/SUS PNT NN SK SK