Ties Between Mamata Banerjee And Her Nephew Hit Rough Patch; Reason Could Be Prashant Kishor

Ties Between Mamata Banerjee And Her Nephew Hit Rough Patch; Reason Could Be Prashant Kishor

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Feb 9, 2022 05:03 PM +05:30 IST
Ties Between Mamata Banerjee And Her Nephew Hit Rough Patch; Reason Could Be Prashant KishorMamata Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee (Facebook)
  • Mamata Banerjee’s resolution to keep PK and his I-PAC at arm’s length was manifest in the rejection of almost all suggestions about choice of candidates for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) held in December last year.

There have been many indications of late that Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee is not happy with her anointed successor and number 2 in the party hierarchy--her nephew Abhishek Banerjee.

Abhishek has, in recent months, tried to chart a new course for the Trinamool and even opposed or distanced himself from a few decisions of the Mamata Banerjee government. The Trinamool chief, naturally, is upset and has decided to show her nephew his place.

Trinamool insiders say that the man responsible for the current rift between Mamata Banerjee and her nephew is the Trinamool’s hired political strategist Prashant Kishor (PK, as he is commonly called). It is PK, they say, who has been egging Abhishek to bring about changes in the party and has even whetted his political ambitions.

The ground for the rift between Abhishek and his aunt was laid right after last year’s Assembly polls in Bengal, which the Trinamool swept. Abhishek, who was appointed the party’s national general secretary by his aunt soon after the Assembly elections, was also tasked with the responsibility of expanding the party’s footprints beyond Bengal.

Abhishek, who had prevailed on his aunt (Mamata Banerjee) to appoint PK as the party’s political and poll strategist immediately after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls that saw the BJP making major inroads in Bengal and winning 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, credited PK and his I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee) with the Assembly victory.

A major part of the credit for the Trinamool’s spectacular performance in the Assembly polls, felt Abhishek, should go to PK and his team. And that brought Abhishek closer to PK. The latter was also given the responsibility of fulfilling the mandate given by Mamata to her nephew: to take the Trinamool to other states.

PK was, thus, instrumental in planning and executing the Trinamool’s foray into Tripura, Goa and Meghalaya, and in the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley region of Assam. PK engineered defections of leaders from other parties into the Trinamool.

Heady with the Trinamool’s success in the Bengal Assembly polls and buoyant over the hype over leaders and workers from other parties (primarily the Congress) joining the Trinamool in the three states, Mamata Banerjee started believing that Trinamool is poised to go national and that she would play a major role in New Delhi in 2024.

Mamata Banerjee, and everyone else in the Trinamool, felt (and still do) that the 2024 Lok Sabha elections would result in a hung Parliament with no party getting a majority, and in such a scenario Mamata Banerjee would emerge as a strong Prime Ministerial candidate due to her position as a fulcrum of regional parties.

PK, say Trinamool insiders, encouraged this belief in the Trinamool chief and her party colleagues through encouraging projections of the post-2024 Lok Sabha poll political scenario. And he (PK) also encouraged the belief in Abhishek that with the party chief busy with her ‘national role’ at the centre, Abhishek would succeed his aunt in Bengal.

PK thus whetted Abhishek’s political ambitions and led him to believe that the chief minister’s chair would be his in a couple of years. PK also advised Abhishek--and the latter’s dependence on PK for political guidance only increased after the 2021 Assembly polls--to fashion a new course and image for the Trinamool.

Abhishek was convinced by PK that the Trinamool is not viewed very positively by many because it is identified too closely with Mamata Banerjee who is combative, shrill, indiscreet and loves playing the role of a ‘street fighter’. Hence, Abhishek should work towards an image makeover for the party.

Abhishek Banerjee, being young, suave and more measured in his speeches and conduct, felt he was perfectly poised to chart a different course for the Trinamool. And the party, PK impressed upon Abhishek, was packed with ageing leaders who needed to be replaced gradually with young and dynamic people with a clean image in order to enhance the Trinamool’s appeal among Gen-Next.

Abhishek’s bid to push the Trinamool in a new direction triggered the expected pushback from party veterans who were, anyway, wary of PK and his team by then. Mamata’s senior party colleagues started complaining to her about PK’s, and I-PAC’s, interference in party affairs and how veteran party leaders and workers were feeling sidelined (read this).

At the same time, there was a pushback from the state bureaucracy against I-PAC’s unofficial supervision and interference in administrative matters (read this). Many serving and retired bureaucrats close to Mamata Banerjee told her how such interference in the state administration was dangerous and undesirable.

Mamata Banerjee saw reason in the contention of party veterans that the Assembly elections were not won because of PK and I-PAC, whose roles were limited only to crafting the party poll campaign and designing and making campaign materials. She saw merit in the argument that the (2021) Assembly elections, and the ones in 2011 and 2016, were won due to her (Mamata’s) appeal and policies and not because of PK and his team.

Convinced that she and her party does not need PK and I-PAC to win elections and irritated with the interference in her party’s and administration’s affairs, Mamata Banerjee decided to clip PK’s wings and show him his place.

Her decision to drastically reduce PK’s role and influence brought her in conflict with her nephew who remains enamoured of the strategist who has turned into his political mentor of sorts.

Mamata Banerjee’s resolution to keep PK and his I-PAC at arm’s length was manifest in the rejection of almost all suggestions about choice of candidates for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) held in December last year. The I-PAC had claimed that its surveys revealed that many incumbent councillors of the Trinamool were unpopular and should thus be replaced with fresh faces.

The I-PAC also recommended the fresh faces for party tickets in most of the 144 wards of the KMC. The I-PAC’s suggestions were ignored and senior executives of the organisation who complained about the rejection of their suggestions were snubbed.

The Trinamool went on to win 134 of the 144 wards and this cemented Mamata Banerjee’s belief that PK and I-PAC have no role to play in the Trinamool’s electoral successes.

PK was, naturally, unhappy and started egging Abhishek Banerjee to resist the status quoists in the party. Being young and quite a political greenhorn, Abhishek followed PK’s advice and started making discordant noises.

He was upset when Mamata Banerjee rejected his choices for some key administrative posts, including that of the Kolkata Police Commissioner. The Trinamool chief also started snubbing Abhishek in a bid to show him his place and started according primacy to party veterans who had felt they were sidelined by Abhishek.

Abhishek started challenging his aunt subtly and indirectly in a few matters. One was the ‘Diamond Harbour model of Covid management’ that his aides held up. Diamond Harbour is Abhishek’s Lok Sabha constituency.

After a football match there on January 1 that drew large crowds came in for strong criticism (read this), Abhishek directed the local administration to implement stringent Covid control measures like wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing in public places, enforcing night curfews and a complete ban on public gatherings.

Abhishek also claimed that Covid testing had been ramped up in his constituency and a national record of conducting more than 53,000 Covid tests on a single day (January 12) had been set (serious doubts exist over this claim because most of the tests were done with self-testing kits). This, he suggested, was in stark contrast to the state government’s failure to conduct adequate tests when the Covid positivity ratio in Bengal was higher than the national average.

Even as Abhishek Banerjee asked the local administration to ban public gatherings in Diamond Harbour, the state government gave the go ahead to Ganga Sagar Mela and other fairs and festivals in the state. Abhishek publicly said that he was against any mass gatherings and this was seen as criticism of Mamata Banerjee.

A row broke out within the senior ranks of the Trinamool over this, with Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee speaking out against Abhishek (read this) and asserting that there is only one leader in the Trinamool. That evoked opposition from a few other senior party leaders who spoke out against the MP. Ultimately, Mamata had to step in and ask her close lieutenant Partha Chatterjee to warn the leaders not to speak against each other.

Abhishek then went on to make a ‘one man one post’ pitch. Many party seniors felt threatened by this since they were holding multiple posts in the government and the organisation. Abhishek, in what is being construed as a direct challenge to his aunt, said in an interview recently that he firmly believed that there should be a retirement age for politicians.

He opined that it could be 65 or 70 (Mamata is 67). Though he took care to say that he would leave it to the party supremo to decide on the retirement age, the message that he conveyed was clear: he wanted his aunt to eventually pave the way for his ascension to the ‘throne’.

Of late, Abhishek has also come to realise that his aunt’s dream of getting on to the national stage after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is not likely to fructify. That means Mamata Banerjee would remain in Bengal as chief minister, thus smashing Abhishek’s own dream of getting into that chair in 2024.

Mamata Banerjee, being an astute politician, is well aware of all this. She wants her nephew to succeed her, but is not ready to hang up her boots in the near future. The succession, feels Mamata, has to happen on her terms alone and she will not hand over the reins of the party that she has built almost single-handedly and after overcoming huge odds.

Abhishek, feels Mamata Banerjee, needs to learn a lot more and bide his time. But Abhishek, egged on by PK, is a man in a hurry. And that is why the growing rift between Mamata and her nephew.

Also read:

-Prashant Kishor likely to part ways with Trinamool as resentment against him peaks within the party and ties with Mamata Banerjee sour

-Why is Prashant Kishor facing a pushback within Trinamool again?

-How Mamata Banerjee has allowed Prashant Kishor’s firm to grow into an extra-constitutional entity in Bengal

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.