Here’s Decoding Mamata Banerjee’s Decisive Purge Of Trinamool And What It Means For Nephew Abhishek

Here’s Decoding Mamata Banerjee’s Decisive Purge Of Trinamool And What It Means For Nephew Abhishek

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Feb 13, 2022 02:48 PM +05:30 IST
Here’s Decoding Mamata Banerjee’s Decisive Purge Of Trinamool And What It Means For Nephew AbhishekMamata Banerjee (Facebook)
  • The power play within the Trinamool is far from over though.

    Mamata Banerjee may have put the lid on it for now, but it is bound to resurface at some point.

Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee has done what many expected her to do: put her foot down and stamp her complete control over the party that she founded and built overcoming all odds over the last 24 years.

By scrapping all party posts while keeping the post of party chairperson for herself, Mamata Banerjee has sent an unequivocal message to the rank and file of her party: that she, and she alone, is the boss and no one else matters. Also, everyone else, including her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, hold office only at her pleasure and have to follow her dictates.

Abhishek, who has been making discordant noises and was deemed to be pushing the boundaries in a bid to assert himself and steer the party on a different course, has been firmly put in his place by his aunt.

Top Trinamool leaders who spoke on strict conditions of anonymity told Swarajya that Mamata Banerjee summoned Abhishek and had a closed door meeting with him stretching over nearly two hours Saturday afternoon. She reportedly gave him a piece of her mind and told him that he has to do whatever she wishes as long as he is in the Trinamool.

But that tough message, delivered in very explicit terms, was also interspersed with adequate doses of softness. “Didi (as Mamata is commonly addressed) is very fond of Abhishek and so explained to him that he has to learn a lot in politics and should not be misled by others. She told him that he has to bide his time and prepare himself for bigger things,” said one senior Trinamool leader.

Mamata Banerjee reportedly told Abhishek at the one-on-one meeting at her Kalighat residence that she had built the party from scratch and gone through a lot of adversities to reach the position she is in today. “You have to struggle, you have to go to the grassroots, understand and bond with the masses and take everyone along with you,” she told Abhishek.

The Trinamool chief told her nephew that she was very upset and angry over his perceived move to disregard party seniors known to be her staunch loyalists. “These people (the senior leaders) have contributed a lot to building the party and have stayed with me through many adversities. They have to be given proper respect and importance. You cannot create your coterie and cause disharmony and resentment within the party. I will not allow it,” she reportedly told her nephew.

Mamata Banerjee explained to Abhishek that his recent utterances and actions had hurt many party seniors who felt that attempts were being made to sideline them. She also reminded him that she had been protecting him and without her protective shield, he would have faced a lot of troubles.

The Trinamool chief was alluding to reported attempts by central agencies to investigate Abhishek’s wife and in-laws and also his (Abhishek’s) wealth and assets. Mamata Banerjee had staunchly defended her nephew and his immediate family and warned the Union Government and the central BJP leadership against such attempts.

Abhishek, say those in the know, did try to explain his stance on the ‘one-person-one-post’ principle that has triggered an unprecedented upheaval in the party with some, especially the younger lot, siding with Abhishek and demanding adherence to the principle by all.

“Abhishek tried to explain that some senior leaders were occupying multiple posts and if the one-person-one-post principle is followed, it would allow many deserving party members to be elevated to responsible positions. Abhishek said it was necessary to groom the younger lot and encourage them,” said the Trinamool leader.

One of Abhishek’s main targets is senior minister and Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim, a staunch Mamata loyalist who has been opposing the application of the principle. Hakim has been asserting that Mamata Banerjee is the undisputed chief of the party and her will has to prevail.

Mamata Banerjee reportedly told Abhishek that while it is good to be ambitious, everyone should bide their time and defer to their seniors. “No one will get things on a platter and no one can lay claim to any post as a matter of right. I alone will decide who occupies which post,” she firmly told her nephew.

The Trinamool chief also informed Abhishek of her decision to scrap all party posts (except her own chairperson’s post) and constitute a ‘national working committee’ to oversee party affairs. She told him she will announce new names for key posts when she feels the time is right. She also told her nephew that he would be included in the new working committee, but would have to mend his ways and work unitedly with all his seniors.

This meeting with Abhishek, in which he faced a humiliating dressing down, was followed by Mamata convening another with her core team of loyalists comprising Firhad Hakim, Subrata Bakshi, Partha Chatterjee, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Aroop Biswas and Chandrima Bhattacharya. Abhishek stayed back for this meeting.

At this meeting that lasted for nearly 50 minutes, Mamata Banerjee did most of the talking. Her central message was that she was the boss of the party she created and she would not tolerate any indiscipline and power games.

Mamata Banerjee told her loyalists that she trusted them fully and they need not be bothered by what newcomers or ‘outsiders’ (a reference to Prashant Kishor) say or do. “Carry on with your work and report to me, consult me and don’t be distracted by what others say. I have full faith in all of you since we have grown together in politics. And send a clear message to everyone else that groupism, coteries, conspiracies and indiscipline will not be tolerated. If anyone has any problem with adhering to party discipline and following what I or what you all say, they are welcome to leave the party,” Mamata is reported to have said.

While referring to her loyalists, she took the names of all the six (except Abhishek) individually. That was a snub to Abhishek, and she rubbed it in by telling him he would have to work closely with the six of them and defer to them.

She told her loyalists that they have to work unitedly and ensure that everyone else in the party also maintains discipline and sticks to the party’s stand on all issues. She told them that the party faces a huge challenge two years from now (the 2024 Lok Sabha elections) and the party has to gear up for that.

The next Lok Sabha elections presented the party’s best opportunity to make its presence felt in a big way on the national political stage and the only way to achieve that goal would be to win all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee told her core group. For that to happen, everyone has to work determinedly and unitedly, she added.

In a placatory gesture to Abhishek, she announced that while she remained committed to implementing the ‘one-person-one-post’ norm, some political and administrative compulsions may not allow her to implement it across the board right away. However, she was working towards that objective.

The issue of Prashant Kishor (PK) and his I-PAC was also discussed at this meeting. Mamata said she felt that though inputs from PK and his team were welcome, they should not be allowed to interfere in the party’s internal affairs.

“We have signed a contract with them to advise and help us. They should not be allowed to dictate to us and it is up to us to accept or reject their advice and suggestions. They are, after all, outsiders and not party members,” she is reported to have said. Firhad Hakim and the others agreed with Mamata and said that this message should go down to all in the party.

Mamata Banerjee also reiterated that she did not really need PK and the I-PAC to win elections. “I know Bengal and the people of my state well. I don’t need anyone from outside the state to tell me about Bengal. Their (I-PAC’s) surveys and campaigns are helpful, but we should not get too carried away by them and allow them to dictate any agenda to us,” she said.

It could not be verified if Mamata Banerjee wants the contract with I-PAC to be terminated. But it is clear that even if she does not discontinue I-PAC’s services, the latter’s wings have been clipped and they will be asked to work strictly within some set parameters.

Banerjee also announced in this meeting that she would rebuild the party organisation afresh and would remove everyone from their existing posts. She then announced the formation of the working committee which will oversee party affairs for now, and read out the names of the 20 members of the committee.

The twenty are Firhad Hakim (transport minister), Amit Mitra (former finance minister), Partha Chatterjee (education minister), Subrata Bakshi (Rajya Sabha MP), Sudip Bandopadhyay (Lok Sabha MP), Aroop Biswas (power minister), Chandrima Bhattacharya (junior health minister), Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar (Lok Sabha MP), Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (Rajya Sabha MP), Jyotipriya Mullick (forest minister), Sovandeb Chattopadhyay (agriculture minister), Moloy Ghatak (law minister), Bulu Chik Barik (junior minister of tribal welfare), Ashima Patra (former minister), Anubarata Mandal (party strongman in Birbhum), Goutam Deb (former minister), Yashwant Sinha (former Union minister) and Rajesh Pati Tripathi (Uttar Pradesh politician and grandson of ex-chief minister Kamalapati Tripathi), besides Abhishek and Mamata herself as head of the committee.

Lok Sabha MP and veteran Trinamool leader Saugata Roy did not find his name in the committee. Rajya Sabha MP Derek O'Brien who had been handling the party’s outreach through the social media before PK and whose team came into the picture in mid-2019, was also a prominent exclusion from this committee.

Incidentally, both of them had been vocal about I-PAC. O’Brien had publicly said that I-PAC was Trinamool’s “political collaborator” which had been tasked with “certain deliverables” (read this). O’Brien’s bid to draw a clear distinction between the party and I-PAC triggered a fair bit of resentment within the Trinamool and led to pro-PK leaders making contrary noises, thus discomfiting the party’s top leadership. Mamata Banerjee felt that O’Brien’s statement was unnecessary.

Saugata Roy, on the other hand, had praised I-PAC recently and that was seen as an attempt to show solidarity with Abhishek. Mamata did not take kindly to Roy’s acclaim (of I-PAC), especially since it came after it became known that she was not happy with the I-PAC going beyond its brief. Roy’s utterances about I-PAC were perceived as subtle defiance of Mamata Banerjee.

At the end of the day, the clear-cut message that went to the Trinamool’s rank and file was that it was Mamata Banerjee, and she alone, who ultimately calls the shots in the party and her words and wishes are absolute. No one else, not even Abhishek, matters and everyone derives their powers from her. Everyone serves at her pleasure and she has the unfettered right to appoint or remove anyone from any post.

To those who felt, mistakenly, that inner-party democracy existed, the message was crystal clear: there is only the supreme person in the party who matters and that is Mamata Banerjee. And that absolute and unquestioning loyalty (to the party supremo) is richly rewarded while even a faint suspicion of contrarian behaviour has severe consequences.

The power-play that started between the old guard (Mamata loyalists) and the young Turks (close to Abhishek) has ended with the latter losing. Abhishek has been shown his place and, from now on, will have to not only respect the old guard, but also listen to them and consult with them before taking any steps.

Abhishek, according to his close aides, has retreated into his shell. He will lie low now and bide his time. But the power play within the Trinamool is far from over; Mamata may have put the lid on it for now, but it is bound to resurface at some point.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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