'The TMC forgets that if people don't stand by you, your party will never win.'
December 16 marked the beginning of the exodus.
That's when Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee's comrade-in-arms during the Nandigram land acquisition movement and a central figure in the party, Suvendu Adhikari joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Adhikari, inducted by the BJP's electoral grandmaster Amit Anilchandra Shah, went on to prophesise that no one will be left in the TMC by the end of February.
While that hasn't come to pass, almost on cue, over the next couple of months, TMC leaders like Rabi-Ul-Islam, Silbhadra Datta, Kabir-Ul-Islam, Rajib Banerjee, Sovan Chatterjee, Diptangshu Choudhury, Dinesh Tiwari, Abhijit Acharya, Silbhadra Datta, Aparesh Santra, Banashri Maity, Baishali Dalmia, Jitendra Tiwari, Debashish Jana and others exited Banerjee's party.
And the list keeps growing.
We picked two defectors, both 'non-Bengalis' in state politics -- Baishali Dalmiya, the MLA from Bally, and Jitendra Tiwari , below, a two-time MLA from Asansol, to ask them what is going wrong with the Trinamool Congress.
Dalmiya, the late Board of Control for Cricket in India president Jagmohan Dalmiya's daughter, joined the TMC in 2016 and the BJP in January this year.
Tiwari, who joined the TMC in 2011, has also been the Asansol mayor, and quit the party twice. In December he quit the party to return in a day, and then in March he finally joined the BJP.
Dalmiya and Tiwari tell Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com why Mamata Banerjee's party is losing its leaders with clockwork precision.
Something is going terribly wrong in the TMC. Many leaders, who have defected to other parties, and overwhelmingly to the BJP, have said that they are not allowed to work. Is that it?
Baishali Dalmiya: For last two to three years I have been raising several issues about my constituency, like the lack of schools and healthcare centres, the mushrooming of illegal constructions, the complete absence of development etc.
There are a few people in TMC who are termites, backbiters, who do not allow development to take place.
The so-called leaders of your own party will place hurdles before you so that you cannot do anything for your constituency.
Why? Because they don't want you as the MLA.
They questioned Mamata Banerjee's decision to nominate me from Bally when, according to them, there are local residents who could have been chosen. Incidentally, I now own a home in Bally.
It's like 'amra shobai raja amader ei rajar rajotte'. I know the original meaning was different when it was written, but for the TMC it means everyone is the chief minister. (Rabindranath Tagore's poem which captures the essence of democracy, translates to: 'We are all kings in this kingdom of our king'. It essentially says that a ruler can rule only at the will of his subjects.)
I didn't ask to be made a candidate from Bally. But the people voted for me, and I will do whatever it takes to do good by them. At least I tried, but after a point, really, nothing works in this party.
The TMC forgets that if people don't stand by you, your party will never win.
The time for advice is over. The elections are at the door. If they had listened to me when I first spoke out three years ago, nobody would have left the party.
Jitendra Tiwari: The TMC should figure out what is going wrong with the party, who am I to say what is going on? Look, I believe every person should be allowed the freedom of thought, but the TMC doesn't think so.
The TMC refuses to accept the federal structure between the Centre and state, only to pander to its own ego. You are cutting your nose to spite your face.
You (Mamata Banerjee) refuse to accept the Centre's funds for the betterment of the state, yet you can't fund the schemes because the state doesn't have the wherewithal!
You refuse to allow people to benefit from the Centre's schemes out of sheer hatred for the PM. Whether you like it or not, you have to accept that Narendra Modi is the PM. The BJP accepts Mamata Banerjee as the chief minister, doesn't it?
Elected representatives work for the people, how long will our electorate tolerate this?
Can you explain what 'not allowed to work' means? It has been the textbook response of all defectors.
Dalmiya: Fund-ta ashle toh kaaj ta korbo! I can work only if I get funds!
My constituency consists of three towns: Bally, Belur and Liluah. For instance, the roads in Liluah are terrible. The roads are the corporation's responsibility, but it is my constituency, so chalo, I will build roads. But do I pay from my own pocket?
I am willing to do even that, but at least enable it! No, they will not let you work.
As an MLA, we get funds of Rs 60 lakh per year. To build a kilometre of road costs between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, that works out to roughly two kilometres of road.
I have three towns. I have to install lights, upgrade hospitals. How will I work?
People have fallen and hurt their heads due to potholed roads in Liluah. A boy in Class 12 became a neurological patient after he fell because the Toto (large-sized autorickshaw) overturned.
Ki kore bachbe manush? How will people live? Just painting walls will have no effect (alluding to the TMC's penchant of painting walls, lampposts, flyovers etc, blue and white. The party's colours are all over West Bengal.)
Despite this, I have changed Jaiswal hospital from a death camp to a fully functional AC hospital.
Every monsoon, it would flood and doctors had to carry their clothes on their head and wear towels. I could do it because I come from an industrial family and I know how to make a little money go a long way.
Tiwari: When you fight elections, you make promises on the basis of a manifesto. We could not deliver on the promises in the manifesto because the relationship between the Centre and the state is abysmal.
If the state government spends five years and all its energy fighting the Centre, boycotting meetings called by the PM, publicising the fact that you have stood your ground against the PM, what do you think happens?
There are no funds to do any work. The funds can only come from the Centre, not from the United States of America. The party would do well to remember that because in all this time it is the people who suffer.
I wanted central funds to make Asansol a smart city. But the local administration told me it would arrange for the funds. It didn't happen. Asansol collects the most revenue for the government after Kolkata, yet we get no funds.
Your disillusionment, your unhappiness, with the party, how long did it take to set in?
Dalmiya: I am an ordinary woman, not a superwoman. Aami ashabadi manush. I believe in hope. I kept thinking that things will work out, but it didn't happen. I was unhappy for the last two years.
Tiwari: I have been feeling uneasy for a year now. I was the Asansol mayor and the development of the town was my responsibility.
Initially, I thought because of thepandemic, we were not getting funds, but later I realised that funds were available for other towns or districts, but not for Asansol. So I had to react.
I had decided to leave the party in December because I was upset that certain demands I had made for Asansol were not being met.
I told my senior leaders and they promised it would be fulfilled. I waited for two months. Now that the Election Commission's notification has been given and nothing can be done.
You have reneged on your promises to Asansol and if this how you treat your people there is no hope left in this party. So I approached the BJP and told them I would like to work with them.