In the biggest exodus from the Trinamool Congress in a single day, party heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari and 34 other leaders including five MLAs and an MP switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday.
Shah taunted TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee by saying she will be left alone by the time assembly elections, due in April-May next year, arrives. Senior leaders of the TMC are also apprehensive that more leaders may leave the party.
Senior leader and TMC 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 TMC leaders, two Communist Party of India-Marxist MLAs and one MLA each of the CPI and the Congress joined the saffron camp.
According to TMC sources, this is the biggest single-day exodus from the party since Banerjee formed it in 1998 after breaking away from the Congress.
Since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the saffron camp bagged 18 seats -- four less than the ruling party - 10 TMC MLAs and one each from the Congress and the CPI-M switched over to the BJP camp. However, none of them resigned as MLAs.
After Saturday, 15 MLAs of the TMC, three of the CPI-M and two belonging to the Congress are with the BJP which has six MLAs of its own in the 294-strong state assembly.
Adhikari, who was handed over the BJP flag by Shah at a mega rally at Midnapore, has resigned from the TMC and given up his cabinet posts. He also quit as an MLA but his resignation letter 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 he switched over to the TMC in 2014.
The five TMC MLAs who joined the BJP at the rally of Shah switched over to the BJP are Banasri Maity, Silbhdrada Dutta, Biswajit Kundu, Sukra Munda and Saikat Panja.
Dipali Biswas, who had won the Gajole seat in 2016 on CPI-M ticket but joined the TMC in 2018, was also inducted into the saffron camp. She has not resigned as a CPI-M MLA.
Haldia's CPI-M MLA Tapasi Mandal, Tamluk's CPI MLA Ashok Dinda and Congress MLA from Purulia Sudip Mukherjee also 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 who included councillors, Zilla Parishad members and district functionaries also switched sides.
A senior TMC leader said that the party is apprehensive that more desertions are in the offing.
"This is the biggest single-day exodus the party has ever faced. Earlier, after the party fared badly in 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 said.
His comments came in the backdrop of several TMC leaders in various districts openly coming out in support of Adhikari and slamming the party leadership.
Adhikari, a former two-time MP, was reportedly unhappy over organisational changes and the growing clout of poll strategist Prashant Kishor and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee who is also the nephew of the chief minister.
Most of the TMC leaders, who had switched sides on Saturday afternoon in the presence of Shah, were also not happy with Kishor and his team allegedly dictating terms to party functionaries.
On the exodus of TMC leaders, Shah said, "The way leaders are leaving the party, Mamata Banerjee will be left alone in the TMC by the time elections are held."
Adhikari's father Sisir Adhikari and brother Dibyendu are sitting TMC MPs from Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha constituencies respectively.
The Adhikari family wields considerable influence in at least 40-45 assembly segments in Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram, parts of Birbhum -- mainly in the Junglemahal region -- and areas in minority-dominated Murshidabad district.
The brewing discontentment in the party may adversely impact the TMC's prospects in the next assembly polls for 294 seats, scheduled to be held in April-May.