Trinamool’s ‘Exploratory Mission’ To Tripura, Spearheaded By Abhishek Banerjee, Turned Out A Flop Show

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Aug 4, 2021 01:12 PM
Trinamool’s ‘Exploratory Mission’ To Tripura, Spearheaded By Abhishek Banerjee, Turned Out A Flop ShowWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee. 
Snapshot
  • The Trinamool has a paltry presence in Tripura and has found it difficult to even fill up crucial organisational posts at the state level due to lack of leaders of any stature.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Trinamool Congress has been trying its best to make a significant inroad into Tripura. But the party’s ‘Mission Tripura’, spearheaded by its chief Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and anointed heir Abhishek Banerjee, has failed to make any headway.

Abhishek Banerjee’s maiden foray into the northeastern state earlier this week was, by all accounts, a flop show. No politician of any significance joined the Trinamool in his presence, and his visit failed to generate even minimal enthusiasm in the state.

If anything, Banerjee should thank Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the publicity his visit received because of an alleged attack on his vehicle by BJP supporters.

The ‘attack’ gave the Trinamool general secretary the media attention and publicity that would have otherwise evaded his one-day visit to the state.

Before Abhishek Banerjee landed in Agartala, a host of senior Trinamool leaders had gone to the state last week to prepare the ground for his visit. They included Bengal Education Minister Bratya Basu, Law Minister Moloy Ghatak, party MPs Derek O’Brien and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and its trade union wing chief Ritabrata Banerjee (a defector from the Communist Party of India or CPI-M).

The visit of all these Trinamool heavyweights to Tripura was triggered by the detention of 23 members of Trinamool’s hired political strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) in state capital Agartala early last week.

The I-PAC team had gone to Tripura to conduct a preliminary survey on the political prospects of their client — Trinamool Congress — in that state. They had toured some parts of the state and met Congress and CPI-M leaders and workers.

But they were found to be violating Covid protocols and were detained in their hotel. The detention triggered a huge furore with the Trinamool accusing the BJP government in the state of acting undemocratically.

The Trinamool heavyweights rushed to Tripura not only to ‘rescue’ the I-PAC team but also to meet and entice leaders and workers of other parties to defect to the Trinamool.

The Trinamool has a paltry presence in Tripura and its state president Ashish Lal Singh (son of the state’s first chief minister Sachindra Lal Singh) has found it difficult to even fill up crucial organisational posts at the state level due to lack of leaders of any stature.

Singh can, at best, be described as a lightweight politician without any mass base. Most of the other Trinamool ‘leaders’ in Tripura are not even known names in the state’s political landscape.

The Trinamool heavyweights from Bengal tried their best to lure at least a few senior politicians from the Congress and CPI-M into their party. They even tried to establish contact with some BJP politicians who, they thought, were disgruntled.

Primary among them was Sudip Roy Barman, one of the six MLAs who were lured into the Trinamool from the Congress by Mukul Roy in 2016 and who followed Roy into the BJP in 2017.

Sudip Roy Barman, son of former Congress chief minister Samir Ranjan Barman, contested the 2018 state elections on a BJP ticket and won. He was made the health minister, but was sacked from the ministry the next year for indulging in ‘anti-party activities’.

Sudip Roy Barman, who has chief ministerial ambitions, had tried to garner support of some MLAs and lead a revolt against Chief Minister Biplab Deb last year. But the BJP central leadership had firmly put down that revolt (read this). The Trinamool leaders from Bengal thought that Sudip could be lured away from the BJP easily.

However, Sudip Roy Barman is a hard-nosed politician and knows that joining the Trinamool would only lead him to political wilderness.

Sudip Roy Barman is learnt to have told his close aides that the Trinamool stands little chance of winning even five seats in the assembly elections that are still two-and-half years away. Hence, joining the Trinamool would be foolish and even politically suicidal.

Also, the BJP central leaders, including national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh, had met Sudip Roy Burman and a few other ‘unhappy’ party MLAs recently and successfully placated them. Sudip Roy Barman was specifically told that he would be rewarded with an important post if he desists from ‘anti-party’ activities and fomenting revolts against Chief Minister Deb.

The former health minister, ultimately, fell in line and not only rejected the Trinamool’s overtures, but is learnt to have buried the hatchet with (Chief Minister) Deb and promised to work for the party.

A top BJP leader in Tripura who was involved in the discussions held with Sudip Roy Barman to placate him, told Swarajya that the party central leadership has lined up some important responsibilities both at the government and organisational levels for Sudip Roy Barman.

With Sudip Roy Barman rebuffing the Trinamool’s tentative overtures, not even lower-rung leaders and functionaries from the BJP showed any interest in associating themselves with the Trinamool. The Trinamool heavyweights had to, ultimately, rest content with inducting some little-known politicians.

The most prominent among the handful of politicians who the Trinamool managed to win over is Subal Bhowmik, a former MLA, who is better known as Tripura’s ‘political nomad’.

Bhowmik started his political career in the Congress, then rebelled and floated his own outfit called the Tripura Grameen Congress. He flirted with the Trinamool in 2016, but was unhappy because Mamata Banerjee apparently did not give him the importance that he thought he deserved.

He then joined the BJP and contested the last assembly polls, but lost. Bhowmik returned to the Congress and contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from the West Tripura seat, but lost that election by more than 3 lakh votes to Pratima Bhowmik, the newly-inducted Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment.

After his crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Subal Bhowmik left politics and floated a religious outfit — Sanatan Mission — and went around the country on a ‘spiritual quest’.

Last month, when Tripura state Trinamool leaders got in touch with him and invited him to join the party, he readily agreed. Joining the Trinamool was the only option left since the Congress and the BJP had shut their doors firmly on him, and the CPI-M does not take in defectors from other parties.

A few other politicians — former Congress minister Prakash Chandra Das, former vice-president of Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee Mohammad Idris Ali, and mid-ranking ex-Congressmen like Tapan Datta, Panna Deb, Premotosh Debnath and Bikash Das — also joined the Trinamool last week.

Some of them had defected from the Congress to the BJP before the 2018 assembly polls, but left because they were not given tickets or organisational posts.

“These so-called leaders who joined the Trinamool are of no consequence and will never be able to win elections. They have no base and few know them. They are completely insignificant,” BJP MLA Ratan Chakraborty told Swarajya from Agartala.

Chakraborty was a minister in the Congress government in the state earlier and had defected to the Trinamool. He was made the Trinamool state president, but joined the BJP before the 2018 assembly polls.

“The Trinamool tried its luck in Tripura twice in the past. But people of the state rejected that party because it has no vision for Tripura and lacks scruples. Trinamool will contest the 2023 assembly polls not to win, but in the desperate hope of getting at least 6 per cent of the votes polled so that it can retain its tag as ‘national party’. Even Mamata Banerjee knows very well that her party cannot win even five seats here,” Chakraborty told Swarajya.

A political party has to get at least 6 per cent votes in four or more states in an assembly or Lok Sabha election and at least four of its candidates have to get elected in any one or more of the four states in order for that party to be considered as a national party.

Abhishek Banerjee, while addressing reporters in Agartala, claimed that many BJP leaders and legislators were in touch with his party. Some BJP leaders from Tripura, he claimed, had met his party colleagues and his aunt (Mamata Banerjee) in Kolkata recently and some others had been in touch over phone.

But BJP leaders in the state firmly reject this claim. “Not a single BJP member has spoken to any Trinamool leader. Had it been true, at least one active BJP member would have joined the Trinamool in Abhishek Banerjee’s presence. But that did not happen,” Tripura BJP chief Manik Saha told Swarajya.

Saha revealed that some Trinamool leaders had got in touch with mid-rung BJP functionaries last month and had tried to lure them with promises of material benefits and posts. “Mukul Roy also called up some of his old contacts in our party and tried to win them over. But the whole exercise was a terrible flop. Not a single BJP karyakarta showed even an iota of interest since no one wants to join a party bereft of morals, principles, vision and even a credible agenda like the Trinamool that is headed by a self-serving, power-hungry and unprincipled politician (Mamata Banerjee),” said Saha.

The Trinamool heavyweights from Bengal who went to Tripura last week also explored the possibility of organising a large public meeting that would be addressed by the party’s yuvaraj (Abhishek Banerjee).

“But they could not get enough people to even assign responsibilities for organising the rally. So they dropped the idea. Forget a rally, they could not even muster a respectable crowd to welcome their yuvaraj. They also had to drop their plans to hold an indoor convention since they realised they will not be able to fill up even a small meeting hall for fifty people,” Saha told Swarajya.

The Trinamool, realising that its foray into Tripura has been a complete flop, has now given the entire responsibility of building up an organisation from the grassroots to I-PAC.

Prashant Kishor’s outfit has been given the task of identifying people at the booth level who can be drafted into the Trinamool. The I-PAC will then build the party’s Tripura unit from that base.

But this, as BJP state chief Saha contends, only exposes the Trinamool’s lack of political wherewithal and capacity in Tripura.

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