Kolkata: Infighting and discontent seems to be brewing in the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls, with several top party leaders coming out in the open against the state government's handling of post- cyclone Amphan restoration works and the coronavirus pandemic.
The growing dissatisfaction among the party rank and file over various issues has put the top TMC leadership in a fix with just 10 months to go for the state Assembly polls.
With last year's Lok Sabha poll results indicating a paradigm shift in state politics with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as a principal challenger to TMC, the stakes are high for TMC and time is precious for Banerjee to set the house in order before the Assembly polls.
Switching of sides by many party legislators and MPs had cost the TMC dearly in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
The BJP had won 18 out of a total of 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal in the last general election, only four less than the TMC's tally of 22.
According to sources, the recent outbursts of senior party leaders and ministers like Sadhan Pande, Subrata Mukherjee and party MP Mahua Moitra, has triggered a debate in the state's political circles.
"The recent flare-up by such senior leaders and that too in public is a matter of concern. Although the party has asked them not to express their views in public, what prompted them to go public? Whether they are trying to send some message, it needs to be looked into," a senior TMC leader told PTI on condition of anonymity.
Recently, Banerjee, without taking any name at a recent virtual party meet, had asked disgruntled leaders to leave the party instead of weakening it from inside.
While Pande had openly questioned the party-run Kolkata Municipal Corporation's role in the post-cyclone restoration work, Mukherjee, one of the senior-most politicians of Bengal, had questioned the absence of the TMC top brass, including state ministers, in cyclone-affected areas of North and South 24 Parganas districts-which faced the brunt of the calamity.
Moitra, TMC national spokesperson and Lok Sabha MP, took a swipe at the party-run gram panchayats within her constituency, Krishnanagar, over unspent funds and unplanned work, and urged people to stand up against corruption by local political leaders.
Amidst the rumblings, BJP leader Mukul Roy, once the number two in TMC and now the saffron party's key man in bringing the "disgruntled" leaders and elected representatives of TMC into the party, claimed that "several top TMC leaders are in touch with us".
"They will join the party at an appropriate time. Just wait for a few months, you will see TMC disintegrating like a pack of cards," he said.
Roy's views were echoed by BJP national general secretary and party's Bengal minder, Kailash Vijayvargiya, who praised TMC leaders and ministers openly expressing their opinions.
"We are aware of the rumbling within the TMC. It is good that at least some of their leaders are speaking the truth," he told PTI.
West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh's lavish praise on Mukherjee as "one of the successful mayors of the city" also didn't go down well with TMC, who felt the saffron camp was sending feelers to some TMC leaders.
The TMC leadership, however, feels this is a ploy by the saffron camp to spread mistrust within the party.
At a time when the state is busy fighting the double whammy of the COVID pandemic and cyclone Amphan, incidents of infighting and clashes among TMC workers in North and South 24 Parganas districts, have also been making headlines.
At the grassroots, especially in districts such as North 24 Parganans, Jhargram, South 24 Parganas, Medinipur, Birbhum, Burdwan and Nadia, infighting among local-level leaders leading to injury and death of TMC cadres have been a regular affair for the past one year.
The BJP has made inroads in these places over the past five years, especially after its spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha polls and has been systematically tapping disgruntled leaders and cadres of the party.
With the infighting taking a toll, the TMC, with inputs from poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his I-PAC team, has decided to crack the whip and revamp the organisation ahead of next year's Assembly polls.
The TMC leadership recently made few organisational changes in some Lok Sabha constituencies.
"Non-performing leaders and ministers have already been identified and have been asked to ramp up their performance. With inputs from I-PAC and our feedback, we will make some policy and organisational changes," another senior TMC leader said.
State Parliamentary affairs minister and TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee said: "People of Bengal will vote in favour of Mamata Banerjee and the TMC's symbol. We are nobody without her. If you are with a political party, you have to abide by the discipline and rules of the party. There can be differences; it can be sorted out through discussion. There is no need for going public over it."
The Congress and CPI(M), the worst sufferers of defections in the state since 2011 at the hands of TMC, said it was good that the ruling party was "getting a dose of its own medicine".
"It is the TMC which has ensured the growth of BJP in Bengal by finishing off secular forces like the Congress and the CPI(M)," state Congress president Somen Mitra said.