The storm in the Trinamool abates, but the scars remain

Trinamool leader Abhishek Banerjee. File

Trinamool leader Abhishek Banerjee. File | Photo Credit: PTI

In many ways the political dominance of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal can be compared to the dominance of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the party which has won almost every election in the State with little or no opposition after its convincing victory over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2021 Assembly polls has been facing its most daunting internal crisis over the past few months.

In parties like the Trinamool, which derives its strength from the charisma of its leader, it is rare to see organisational elections being held in public and to see the party dissolve all posts and reconstitute them in a span of just a few weeks.

On February 2, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was re-elected unopposed as chairperson of the party. On February 12, she dissolved all the posts of the party, including that of national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, her nephew. She set up a 20-member working committee, which included Mr. Banerjee and party loyalists, some of whom were district presidents and MLAs. Six days later, she reappointed her nephew as general secretary and introduced three new vice presidents of the party — former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha and two loyalists, Subrata Bakshi and Chandrima Bhattacharya. This is seen as an attempt to introduce checks and balances in the party. There is more to these developments than emotive family issues; this is Ms. Banerjee’s way of ensuring that the party top brass and rank and file know who is the boss.

Ms. Banerjee has responded to the tricky issue of introducing dynasty politics in her party by saying that she is preparing the next generation to take control of the reins one day. However, the rise of Mr. Banerjee after the 2021 polls was so dramatic that the party was unable to grapple with the development. In parties driven by the personality of the leader, the position of number two has its own challenges and pitfalls.

It was Mr. Banerjee who was instrumental in getting I-PAC on board when things were not going well for the Trinamool after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the months following the 2021 Assembly polls, the line between Mr. Banerjee’s team and I-PAC started getting blurred. The veterans in the party did not like the fact that their authority and advisory role were being reduced abruptly. Sensing the tension, senior leaders started targeting Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC, which was a relatively soft target.

In the weeks preceding the February shake-up of the party, the choice of candidates for the civic polls turned out to be a critical issue. Differences surfaced over whether the old order or the emerging leadership should get prominence. The party had to issue statements that lists signed by senior leaders would be considered as final.

The situation escalated when young leaders and members of the Banerjee family went on social media expressing support for ‘one person, one post’. It was Mr. Banerjee who had emphasised bringing in a more professional approach in the party, but in the civic polls, the ‘one person, one post’ principle was flouted with Ministers being given tickets. This was seen as an attempt to undermine the supreme authority of Ms. Banerjee who was left with no option but to dissolve and reconstitute all the posts.

After the shake-up, the storm brewing inside the party has abated but the scars will take time to heal. The developments indicate that Ms. Banerjee remains firmly in grip of the party organisation, but the position of Mr. Banerjee as the second in command cannot be undermined. The party will continue to rely on loyalists. The wisdom of the leader and her political foresight have to be trusted in all situations. And if the party associates itself with an external agency, the agency will have to take responsibility for mistakes.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2022 11:02:30 pm |