Mamata's party and her party-poopers (West Bengal Newsletter)
Fisticuffs between lawmakers inside the West Bengal assembly may not have perturbed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee much but intra-party feuds within her Trinamool Congress and the rising numbers of dissidents in party ranks should surely cause concern.
The so-called cultural capital of the country witnessed one of the most uncultured scenes inside the state assembly Dec 11, when legislators from the ruling Trinamool and the main opposition - the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) pounced on each other, kicking and punching.
The punches and kicks flew relentlessly and so did the allegations and counter accusations in the aftermath, as three of the legislators had to be rushed to the hospital while three others from the opposition got suspended.
While for many, the incident was "unprecedented", the house nonetheless has witnessed unruly scenes before.
In 2006 Trinamool legislators had run amok uprooting furniture and fixtures in protest after the erstwhile Left Front government had denied Banerjee the permission to hold a rally.
While it is a matter of debate which party was guilty for the fracas, Banerjee perhaps had an inkling of what was coming, as she had earlier warned her members not to fall prey to the opposition's provocations, and urged them to be restrained inside the assembly.
As the political blame game over the brawl continued, Congress lawmakers attended the house next day wearing helmets while the CPI-M led Left Front, "aggrieved at being denied an opportunity to discuss matters of public importance," held mock sessions in the assembly courtyard.
Though the immediate cause for the clash was the opposition's claims of the government's "inability" to rein in the mushrooming chit funds in the state, the events that unfolded subsequently revealed a ruling party which was already bruised battling its own demons.
Kabir Suman, the singer-turned Trinamool parliamentarian and for long, the face of the rebellion within the party, has now steadily been getting comrades in arms as dissenting voices continue to grow.
The latest to walk the rebel path is Chowringhee legislator Sikha Mitra, also the wife of party heavyweight and parliamentarian Somen Mitra.
Sikha, defying party's "Talibani fatwa" of not talking to the media without permission, dubbed the entire assembly fracas as "shameful". She didn't blame any party, which was a deviation from the Trinamool line of blaming the CPI-M for the entire fiasco.
This was too much for the Trinamool, especially coming from Mitra who was already under fire for filing a defamation case against party biggie Partha Chatterjee.
Mitra now stands suspended indefinitely from the party fold.
Singur's "mastermoshai" (teacher) Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the former state agricultural minister, Haldia legislator Siuli Saha, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay - once a Mamata loyalist - and MP Ambica Banerjee, many of these leaders, to their supremo's chagrin, have been towing the rebel path.
Peeved at being shunted to the nondescript statistics department, Bhattacharya dropped a bombshell when he claimed that his partymen "extorted" money from public, while Saha has been vocal in decrying the party's East Midnapore strongman and MP Subhendu Adhikary.
Party veteran Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, ruling party chief whip in the assembly, who had threatened to quit after being assaulted by activists of a rival party-faction also joined in the bandwagon and lashed out against his own men Sunday and questioned the party's continued silence on his demand - a public condemnation of the Nov 27 attack on him.
Ambica, a five-time Howrah MLA and a first time Lok Sabha MP, put the icing on the chief minister's cake of woes when he shared the dais with chief minister's bete noire - Congress leader and Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and even went on to praise him.
Banerjee, though, may have been able to pacify her party's chief whip Sovandeb, who later claimed that he would never leave the party. Even Somen Mitra, defending his wife, said that what she had done was not anti-party.
"No anti-party work has been done. The incident inside the assembly was unfortunate. In an earlier instance, too, we brought a defamation notice because it was justified," Somen said, defending Sikha following her suspension from the party.
The mutiny in the making has come at the most inappropriate time for Banerjee who is already battling on several fronts. Even a section of the media has attracted her ire, as the Trinamool Congress gears up for the all-important rural polls to be held early next year.
It is to be seen whether the mercurial Banerjee can get her party's act together or whether her Trinamool will split as the rebels pull away.
A split in the party is something her political opponents have been predicting.