In a setback to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a major boost to the BJP, Trinamool Congress MP Saumitra Khan on Wednesday crossed over to the saffron party, citing lack of democracy in the state.
The Trinamool hit back by expelling Khan and another Lok Sabha member Anupam Hazra for "anti-party activity", but the BJP claimed that more MPs from Banerjee's party would join its fold soon in the eastern state, where it is eyeing a greater share of seats in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
Khan, whose induction in the saffron party was announced at a press conference here following his meeting with BJP President Amit Shah, also took potshots at Banerjee's nephew and Trinamool's virtual second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee by saying "Bengal is being ruled by a party of aunt and nephew".
Crossing over to the BJP in the presence of Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan and West Bengal BJP leader Mukul Roy - the latter himself Banerjee's one-time right hand man - Khan accused Trinamool of "snatching people's voting rights".
"There is no democracy in Bengal. Election is going on in the entire country, but not a single bomb has exploded anywhere (outside Bengal). They (Trinamool) are snatching people's voting rights and doling out the funds received from the central government. West Bengal cannot be run in this way," the 38 year old claimed.
"I joined BJP today because it is working for everyone's development under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The way Amit Shah is leading the party, I am hopeful that a new sun will arise in Bengal soon," he said.
Roy said this was just the beginning of the exodus from Trinamool. "This was just the trailer. The picture will follow now. More such MPs and other leaders will join the BJP before the polls," said Roy, who was earlier instrumental in roping in Khan to the Trinamool.
Khan, who won the Kotulpur seat in Bankura district on a Congress ticket in 2011, switched allegiance to Trinamool in late 2013. The next year he contested and won from Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat on a Trinamool ticket.
While Khan challenged Abhishek Banerjee to contest against him, the latter dared the BJP to field him as a candidate in the coming polls and ensure his victory.
"Khan had won in 2011 and 2014 elections by the grace of Mamata Banerjee. He is a big mouth. We will ensure he wouldn't enter a single polling booth in future," he added.
Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee alleged that "Khan got involved in several controversies in the last one year".
On the other expelled MP Anupam Hazra, who represents the Bolpur constituency in Birbhum district, Chatterjee said: "He is involved in more heinous activities. He has made a number of controversial statements on the social media and done certain things which are not in line with party's culture".
Countering Chatterjee, Hazra claimed that his name never featured in either the Saradha ponzy scam or the Narada sting operation, where a number of fellow party leaders were allegedly involved and questioned the party's definition of anti-party activities.
"The only objection against me was that I was very active on Facebook but I deleted my Facebook account a year back because of party's objection. So I want to know what he meant by anti-party activities," he added.
After Wednesday's developments, Trinamool's strength in the Lok Sabha has come down to 32 from 34.
The BJP has been focussing on the eastern states, particularly Bengal, in its bid to retain power in the coming general election. BJP president Amit Shah has set the party a target of winning 22 seats from Bengal.