Abhishek Banerjee and the remaking of Trinamool Congress

Away from the media glare, unlike his charismatic aunt and CM Mamata, he has brought in key changes

Published - September 25, 2021 06:46 pm IST - Kolkata

File photo of Abhishek Banerjee.

File photo of Abhishek Banerjee.

On June 2, exactly a month after the Trinamool Congress (TMC) registered one of its most emphatic electoral victories in the 2021 Assembly polls, party general secretary, Abhishek Banerjee visited a private hospital in Kolkata to enquire about the health of an elderly woman.

Krishna Roy, wife of BJP leader Mukul Roy was down with COVID-19 and Mr. Banerjee’s visit created a flutter in State political circles — not only because Mr. Roy was a BJP legislator but also because none from the State BJP leadership had reached out to him. A few days later Mr. Roy, national vice-president of the BJP, returned to the Trinamool Congress, a party he had helped set up in 1998.

And Mr. Roy was not the only high-profile entrant to the TMC thanks to the quiet outreach of Mr. Banerjee. He was crucial in bringing in Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev and nominating her to the Rajya Sabha within weeks. While making way for Ms. Dev, the TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Arpita Ghosh had addressed her resignation to Mr. Banerjee and asked for an opportunity to work for the party.

Most recently, former Union Minister and two-time BJP MP Babul Supriyo also spoke of being given opportunity to be in the “playing 11” at the behest of the 33-year-old Diamond Harbour MP.

New faces

TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s nephew is slowly and steadily recruiting new talent to restructure the organisation and looking for new areas for expansion. Post 2019, as his clout grew in the party, he has tried to transform a party by bringing in poll strategist Prashant Kishor and improving both its image and messaging across social media platforms.

Mr. Banerjee has also been crucial in initiating a number of organisational changes within the party, nominating Sayonee Ghosh as the youth president and appointing former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Ritabrata Banerjee as the head of the TMC’s labour wing. A few weeks ago, the party brought in a policy of one person-one post which resulted in many ministers giving up organisational posts and a new leadership emerging at the district level.

The induction of fresh blood in the TMC is also evident in the party’s campaign in Tripura. Youth leaders were the first to visit the State, followed by ministers of the West Bengal government and finally Mr. Banerjee himself visited the State, emphasising that his party would contest Assembly polls in Tripura with all seriousness.

In turn, Mr Banerjee has come under the scanner of central investigating agencies, facing summons from the CBI in a coal pilferage scam. The MP has repeatedly said the TMC will not be cowed down by summons and notices from investigating agencies.

Away from spotlight

While he has been the subject of much debate and speculation in political circles, Mr. Banerjee has stayed away from the spotlight. The young Trinamool leader operates from his Camac Street office in the heart of Kolkata and not from the party headquarters on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. He stays away from the public glare unlike his aunt who is comfortable with the media presence.

After the 2021 Assembly polls even when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee placed herself as the challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Banerjee has strengthened his grip over the party, steadily expanding his sphere of influence and has created his own niche as the second most important leader of the TMC.

Political observers, however, think it is not fair to compare the leadership skills of the two.

“Mamata Banerjee is a self-made leader who started from scratch. She rose from student and local politics and made her mark at national politics. Abhishek is part of a dynasty, and his leadership is largely dependent on the support of the well-oiled political machinery of her party and administration,” Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of Political Science at Rabindra Bharati University, said.

Prof Chakraborty said so far, all the electoral success of Trinamool Congress can be largely attributed to the charisma of Mamata Banerjee and a few defections from the BJP or Congress do not mean much if the TMC cannot take its footprint beyond West Bengal.

“For Abhishek the real test will be making Trinamool Congress a national player; the Assembly polls in Tripura in 2022 could be the first challenge for him,” he added.

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