KOLKATA: The Trinamool Congress leadership has been reaching out to its disgruntled leaders to thwart any poaching bid by rival BJP ahead of the general elections, TMC leaders said.
However, opposition parties in West Bengal, including the BJP and Congress, have alleged that it was the TMC that poached elected representatives. Besides, the TMC has also taken a tough stand to curb infighting in the party. The infighting had left many party workers unhappy, they said.
BJP president Amit Shah last year had set a target of winning at least 22 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal and the party has been pulling out all stops to achieve the target.
The BJP has just two seats in the state. With the target in mind, the state BJP leadership has been wooing TMC leaders and workers at various levels into the party. For the TMC, the biggest jolt came when its sitting MP from Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat in Bankura, Soumitra Khan, switched over to the BJP recently.
The defections from the TMC had resulted in windfall for the BJP in panchayat polls held last year and also in several bypolls, where the saffron party witnessed a sharp rise in vote share and cemented its place as the main challenger to the TMC in West Bengal.
Though the TMC was quick to expel Khan and another MP -- Anupam Hazra -- for anti-party activities, it had said Khan's joining the BJP would not affect its prospects in Bankura in the Lok Sabha polls.
However, according to TMC insiders, the party leadership has decided to keep a tab on dissident leaders and workers at various levels, and is trying to ensure they do not join the saffron camp. Sources in both the TMC and the BJP said there are several MPs, MLAs and district level leaders with whom the BJP is in touch.
"We are in touch with several MPs and MLAs, and they will switch over to the BJP very soon," senior BJP leader Mukul Roy, once a close associate of Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, said.
TMC Secretary General Partha Chatterjee, however, said the people of West Bengal firmly stands by Banerjee and her policies. Those who have switched sides would get a "befitting reply" from the masses, he said.
According to a senior TMC leader, who did not wish to be named, the party has reached out to several workers and leaders, and is trying to pacify them for their grievances against the party's local leadership.
"When we speak to these workers or leaders who for some reasons have distanced themselves from party activities, (but) we have seen that their respect for the party is intact. "They are angry with the local leadership which has either mistreated or sidelined them.
So, we are trying to reach out to those disgruntled leaders and bring them back," the TMC leader said.
Requesting anonymity, another senior TMC leader, who is also a minister, said despite his best efforts, he has not entirely succeeded in keeping the flock together in his area due to "several provocations".
"There is a need for political schooling of the party cadre for better understanding of the present political situation," he said.
Besides dissidence, another crucial factor has been infighting in various levels of the party, another senior TMC leader pointed out. "If you try to unite everybody, someone or the other will say he will only follow the local MLA or MP.
He or she won't pay heed to what others are saying and this, in turn, has also impacted our assessment of ground level situation," the TMC leader said.
Much to the dismay of the TMC leadership in districts like Coochbehar, Alipurduar, Malda, West Midanpore, East Midnapore, Purulia, Jhargram and Bankura, the BJP has made steady inroads, said a TMC leader, adding that their local leadership was "not well informed" about the ground situation.
Once hit by Maoist insurgency, the three districts of "Jangalmahal" - West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura -- have been the beacon of Banerjee's developmental policies in the state. But the BJP during the last panchayat polls have won several seats in the belt.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said the people of West Bengal are "fed up" with the TMC's misrule and this was why people are joining the BJP to fight the TMC. "Party (TMC) leaders who are disgruntled and have no voice in that party, want to join BJP which has a democratic set up," Ghosh said.
The opposition leaders in West Bengal, including the BJP, have accused the TMC of being the first party which has mastered the art of defection and poaching of elected representatives. "The TMC should not crib over defection because they are just getting a dose of their own medicine.
It is the TMC which has destroyed secular forces in Bengal by poaching on MLAs and MPs," Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan said.
More than 15 MLAs and a sitting Lok Sabha MP had switched over to TMC since 2016 Assembly polls. The most recent is Congress Malda North MP Mausam Noor.