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Mamata’s nephew, target of Amit Shah’s ‘bhateeja kalyan’ jibe, is de facto No. 2 in TMC

Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew, has emerged as the chief crisis-manager and go-to man for Trinamool leaders — a fact many old-timers find unpalatable. 

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Kolkata: Senior BJP leader Amit Shah’s ‘bhateeja kalyan (welfare of the nephew)’ jibe at Mamata Banerjee recently drew sharp reactions from the Trinamool Congress, but the West Bengal chief minister does seem to be working on a succession plan. She is increasingly leaning on her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, to manage party affairs. 

With assembly elections due within the next couple of months, Abhishek has emerged as the chief crisis-manager and go-to man for Trinamool leaders — and a fact many old-timers find unpalatable. 

On Monday, when Dipak Haldar, the two-time MLA of Diamond Harbour, a constituency that falls under Abhishek’s Lok Sabha constituency, quit the Trinamool Congress, he had a simple explanation. Haldar maintained he was sidelined and “humiliated” in the party after the CM’s nephew found out that he was against the party’s unnecessarily violent tactics.

I have been insulted, humiliated and isolated in the party since the 2018 panchayat election because I protested against the policy of winning elections uncontested,” the 50-year-old Haldar told ThePrint hours after tendering his resignation.  

“The local MP (Abhishek Banerjee) has absolute control here and he decides everything,” he added. “I tried to meet him but he was inaccessible. I met top leaders hundreds of times but they said they were helpless in front of him.” 

Many within and outside the party say Abhishek is the de facto No. 2 in Trinamool, and his rise is being cited as one of the reasons for the mass defections ahead of assembly elections due in April. Over the past six months, the TMC has lost at least 20 MLAs, including two senior cabinet ministers, to the BJP. 

Top TMC leaders have told ThePrint that while the chief minister always takes the final call on party matters, Abhishek’s growing influence is apparent with his increased involvement in strategy formulation, addressing of political rallies and dealing with dissidents ahead of the elections. 

He has been the main ‘liaison’ between the party and election strategist Prashant Kishor, whom the TMC has hired for the assembly polls.  


Also read: Mamata ‘implemented’ projects worth Rs 6.2 lakh cr, but just 2.5% shows up in central data


Abhishek era begins 

The TMC is facing unprecedented dissent ahead of the elections. Apart from the 20 MLAs, former ministers Suvendu Adhikari and Rajib Banerjee, who resigned from their positions as legislators, and East Burdwan MP Sunil Mondal have also joined the BJP. Two more Trinamool Congress MPs are expected to follow suit. 

It is Abhishek who has looked to stem the tide, underlining his growing influence in the party. Over the past three months, the chief minister’s nephew has held meetings with many disgruntled leaders including Suvendu Adhikari and MP Satabdi Roy. Sources said Kishor was present at some of the meetings. 

While Suvendu left, the party has managed to retain the three-term MP Satabdi Roy. She was promoted as party vice-president after her meeting with Abhishek. 

Party sources, however, say Abhishek’s growing influence is part of the problem, with defectors blaming him for their discontent. Soon after he quit, Suvendu Adhikari said the TMC was hampered by the ‘Tolabaaj Bhaipo (extortionist nephew)’, a veiled reference to Abhishek, who has since filed a defamation suit.

Haldar told ThePrint that it was Abhishek who was behind his “side-lining” in the area.  

“During the 2019 Lok panchayat elections, I protested against the violence unleashed in the area,” he said. “I tried to talk to senior leaders saying we would win anyway and there was no need to intimidate voters but by doing this, I earned the wrath of the MP (Abhishek Banerjee). I was kept out of political programmes and was harassed, humiliated every day.”

Haldar added: “Three months ago, I met our leader Mamata Banerjee but failed to convince her about the situation. So finally I decided to quit.” 

Other senior leaders also admit that the situation needs to be addressed. “The Abhishek era has begun. He is working hard to prove his political acumen but he needs to look into the reasons behind such large scale dissidence,” a senior Trinamool leader told ThePrint.  

“After every defection, we are just calling them traitors and saying it does not affect the party. But it does,” he added. “Losing any of our colleagues to the enemy camp is a loss. They have worked with us for years. Why do they suddenly quit? Not all of them are unscrupulous. But there is no one to listen to the clamour inside the party.” 

ThePrint sent detailed queries through text and WhatsApp messages to Abhishek Banerjee over the allegations but is yet to get any response. This report will be updated when a response is received.


Also read: ‘Will suffer Mamata misrule, not BJP’ — Bengal intellectuals don’t want another ‘poriborton’


He has matured as a politician, say TMC leaders

Senior TMC leaders, however, publicly defend the chief minister’s nephew and his workings. 

Abhishek has matured as a politician in the past two years, said veteran Trinamool MP Sougata Roy. “He is a decent young politician and well brought up. He maintains a connection with the party cadre and now he is the main liaison with the poll strategist,” Roy said. “He plays an important role in formulating election strategy. He is doing well and will do better. We are seeing how he counters the BJP’s relentless attack. His public speeches have clarity and content.” 

Veteran TMC minister Subrata Mukherjee added that the discontent cannot be blamed on Abhishek. “We have seen him growing. He has been groomed by Mamata. And that shows,” Mukherjee said. “We are aware that there is some discontent or resentment at the ground level but Abhishek and Prashant Kishor are not responsible for that. Some district-level executives of Kishor’s organisation may have hurt some leaders’ emotions. We are looking into that too. But the defection is happening for pure greed.” 

Political analysts, however, feel otherwise. “Mamata Banerjee wants her successor ready to take over. She has been saying this for long. She has given Abhishek sweeping powers and he literally stands unchallenged,” said political analyst Biswanath Chakraborti. “Abhishek is not popular among the leaders. Those still in the Trinamool are not happy with the present system.” 


Also read: BJP raises the stakes for defectors, but the payback has started hurting


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. One more dynast rises. What happened to our luddite liberals who are always screaming for democracy? Cat got their tongue?

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