Kolkata: When BJP national president J.P. Nadda visited West Bengal last week, he held programmes at two carefully chosen locations — Bhowanipore, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s assembly constituency, and Diamond Harbour, the Lok Sabha seat held by her nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
This just reinforced the notion that Abhishek is the de facto number two in the Trinamool Congress, after Mamata Banerjee.
In Diamond Harbour, Nadda’s convoy was pelted with sticks and stones, and the BJP claimed the attack was orchestrated by the Trinamool Congress. But while other ruling party leaders claimed the state was not informed about his visit, Abhishek Banerjee pointedly said the reason for the attack was that people’s emotions had boiled over.
“Nadda Diamond Harbour-e giye gaddhai porechen (Nadda went to Diamond Harbour and fell into a ditch),” Banerjee said, adding that he would not take responsibility for Nadda and other BJP leaders facing the wrath of the people.
The BJP has been targeting Abhishek for a while now, with senior leaders from Prime Minister Modi to the state leadership referring to him, though not by name. They as well as disgruntled leaders in his own party label him ‘yuvraj’ and ‘rajkumar’ (prince), ‘bhaipo’ (nephew), ‘dynast’ and ‘party breaker’.
Without being in the public eye like Akhilesh Yadav or Tejashwi Yadav, Abhishek is the centre of most political discussions in recent times as Bengal’s heir apparent, and also as the one ‘responsible’ for the present factional issues in the party. His residence in south Kolkata looks like a fort, with a Kolkata Police kiosk, a platoon of security personnel and a couple of pilot cars. He enjoys the heaviest security cover, like CM Mamata herself.
Resentment within Trinamool
At least 10 Trinamool leaders, including one MP and eight MLAs, have spoken out against the party’s “mismanagement”, blaming Abhishek Banerjee and the poll strategist who has apparently been brought in at his behest, Prashant Kishor.
Senior leader Suvendu Adhikari, who resigned from the Trinamool Congress Wednesday after being a rebel for a while, said in public meetings that he had worked his way up to prominence, unlike “someone” who took the elevator to the top, or got parachuted in.
Abhishek directly addressed these comments in a public meeting in Diamond Harbour last week, saying: “Had I taken a lift, I would have had 35 positions. I have fought my way up to become an MP.”
He also mentioned that all senior BJP leaders including PM Modi attack him, but “none dare take” his name.
A Trinamool MLA from Hooghly district told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “All these senior leaders are accusing the strategist (Prashant Kishor) of creating a divide and confusion in the party. But they have serious issues about Abhishek’s handling of things. Why does Abhishek take calls about who will stay and who won’t? Had it not been for Abhishek, Suvendu (Adhikari) would have stayed in the party. Rajib Banerjee would not have said he was sidelined.
The MLA continued: “Why are all important party meetings attended by him and his poll strategist? Poll strategists should not be privy to such political discussions. But Abhishek does not go anywhere without him. We feel insecure and disrespected. Now, we are hearing that they will decide whom to field and where? It is not their job.”
Another senior Trinamool MLA from north Bengal told ThePrint: “People like us who have been with Didi since her time in the Congress have seen Abhishek as a little boy. But that boy today speaks to us like he owns the party.”
This MLA added: “There are leaders flocking around him, and these leaders are getting senior positions and important portfolios. In every district, you will find a parallel wing of Trinamool that runs under the command of Abhishek. They are mostly involved in syndicate politics (extortion).”
This charge of “acting like he owns the party” has been applied to Abhishek by others too. Mihir Goswami, an MLA who quit the Trinamool recently, said: “Didi does not meet the old hands now. Abhishek, whom I have seen as a little boy, speaks like he owns the party. Leaders in Kolkata flock around him and they are at the helm of affairs. So, to stay relevant, you have to become a stooge.”
Another senior leader from Bankura district said: “In the 2019 general elections, Didi had given him the responsibility of the Jangalmahal region, including Purulia and Bankura. We were defeated in all three seats here. We tried to explain to Didi how he sidelined the grassroot leaders and installed his own teams. But she didn’t listen.”
Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP’s national general secretary in-charge of West Bengal, said of Abhishek: “Bhaipo is the epitome of arrogance. The pishi (paternal aunt)-bhaipo government will go soon because of their arrogance. The disgruntled Trinamool Congress leaders, who are now speaking out in public against the party and its misrule, were actually tormented by this bhaipo. They have lost access to their Didi, and now they need to be subservient to the bhaipo. They are not able to accept this.”
‘A BJP ploy’
However, senior members of the party call this campaign against Abhishek Banerjee a BJP-orchestrated ploy.
Responding to a detailed questionnaire sent by ThePrint, Dum Dum MP Sougata Roy said: “Tainting and maligning leaders of the opposition with personal attacks has always been a trend in the BJP. This is one of their vile strategies to mobilise the electorate.”
Explaining why the BJP was picking on Abhishek, Roy said: “Ever since MP Abhishek Banerjee delivered his speech on the CAA/NRC issue in Parliament, BJP has obviously started to feel threatened by his presence. The new and upcoming face that left the BJP at its wits end is the face of Abhishek Banerjee, who won by 3,20,594 votes against the BJP candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.”
Roy said that Abhishek, as the national youth president of the Trinamool Congress, has worked towards uniting the youth, giving structure to the youth wing, and directions to work for the betterment of the people of Bengal.
“Our youth was extremely active in helping lakhs of people amid the pandemic. Does the youth wing of BJP in Bengal have any organisational structure? Leaders like Tejaswi Surya are being brought from outside the state to create chaos and violence in West Bengal. With a youth wing almost falling out of place and the only uniting factor being violence, people of Bengal are naturally more inclined towards a more experienced face, that is Abhishek Banerjee, who is willing to fight for everyone’s welfare,” the Dum Dum MP said of his younger colleague.
Roy also rejected BJP’s allegation of Abhishek being an “entitled dynast”.
“It is strange that the BJP is pointing at Bengal on dynasty politics. If the BJP has such a strong dislike towards dynasts, why do they poach the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia into their fold? Does poaching dynasts not make BJP a dynastic party?” he asked.
“Here are some more dynasts in the BJP — Piyush Goyal, Anurag Thakur, Kiren Rijiju, Vijay Goel, Dharmendra Pradhan, Pankaj Singh, B.Y. Raghavendra, Akash Vijayvargiya, Vasundhara Raje, Poonam Mahajan, Dushyant Singh, Parvesh (Sahib) Singh Verma, Rajveer Singh and Neeraj Shekhar,” Sougata Roy said.
“We can also add one more to this list. Let’s not talk about cricket. It can become embarrassing for the home minister,” he added, alluding to the fact that Union home minister Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah is secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Roy categorically said the resentment among the Trinamool Congress’ own workers against Abhishek Banerjee is a “figment of your imagination”.
“It is not based on facts. The All India Trinamool Congress is a grassroots organisation. Right from the booth level workers to the Chief Minister, everyone is committed to the welfare of the people,” he said.