Day after day, resignation after resignation – it just doesn’t seem to stop. With a third MLA Shilbhadra Dutta, resigning after Suvendu Adhikary and Jitendra Tiwari, along with a host of local leaders, alarm bells are ringing for the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Sources close to the party have said that the Barrackpore MLA was miffed with the top brass because he alleged that decisions were being taken in his area without consulting him.
While TMC loyalists have said that the recent departures will not hamper the party’s poll plans and that the leaders are “leaving the party during trying times” because they were “greedy”, analysts have opined that the TMC should be worried, especially with the BJP breathing down its neck.
The flurry of departures evidently begs the question – Why? While there are a host of reasons ranging from the party’s structure to the party’s functioning, each one of them have a common complaint – the increasing influence of political strategist Prashant Kishor.
The Prashant Kishor Factor
Kishor was brought on by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee in an attempt to help Banerjee win for the third time whilst decimating the BJP who has been making significant inroads in the state over the years.
Kishor and I-PAC developed tight control over the happenings in Trinamool as well as the Bengal government, ruffling many feathers in the process.
The Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) had engaged over 1,200 volunteers across the state to take stock of the party organisation and its influence in each constituency. They also surveyed the popularity of the sitting MLAs in their constituencies, identifying issues such as infighting and corruption at the grassroots level.
Kishor's "clean-up" drive within the party meant that dissenters who were looking for more power and status were increasingly sidelined. Kishor also tried to bring in new and younger faces, which alienated some senior leaders.
Organisation Rejig: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
The last straw came in the form of an organisational rejig on 23 July 2020. Several fresh faces were introduced and the responsibilities of old leaders were trimmed. One of them was Suvendu Adhikari, who was already having his differences with Abhishek Banerjee and Kishor. Tensions had started simmering when Banerjee replaced Adhikari as the Trinamool Youth Wing President in 2015.
Banerjee continued as the president of the Trinamool Youth Congress Committee (TMYCC) while Adhikari, who was previously the district observer of several districts, including Jangalmahal, Malda and Murshidabad, had his wings clipped.
The position of district observer was removed altogether and was replaced with district chairman. A seven-member core panel, or steering committee, was formed, which Adhikari was a part of which, would be looking after the districts.
Mamata had also sent show-cause notices to nearly 200 TMC workers and leaders from Nandigram alone, an area which Adhikari shares an emotional connection with.
However, most of the structural reshuffling happened at the grass-roots level
A ‘controversial’ addition to the list of fresh faces was Chhatradhar Mahato, an ex-Maoist-backed leader, to the party’s state committee. He was released from jail earlier this year after being arrested for an attempt to kill former CM Buddadeb Bhattarcharya. Reportedly, he was included to revive TMC’s presence in the Jangalmahal area (Suvendu’s bastion) where the BJP had made significant inroads in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Besides Mahatao, expelled CPI-M leader Ritabrata Bandopadhyay was also on the list.
Several names from the ‘old guard’ were omitted after the reshuffle and the inclusion of these two “outside” leaders only added fuel to the fire.
“I was the founder president of the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad in the undivided Burdwan district and a four-time member of the Zila Parishad. But it’s frustrating that the party leadership is appointing dishonest leaders in different important portfolios. I have also decided to leave Trinamool.”Nurul Hasan, TMC leader told The Statesman
Local municipality borough chairman from Durgapur, Chandrashekhar Banerjee accused the I-PAC and the TMC of enabling politicians to buy their way into higher positions like that of block president while those who worked hard were not given the opportunity.
Most of the anger was directed at Kishor, because of changes that he has been making in the organisation. But almost all of them have constantly expressed their loyalty towards Mamata. They say that they are always ready to take orders from Banerjee but not from “Kishor and his young boys”.
'Young Boys Telling Us What To Do’
“Our party spent crores to bring in PK (Prashant Kishor). He chose organisational heads in my constituency who do not have a clean record and who are not liked by people. People like us were sidelined. But he seems to know better than us. So what does the party need me for?”Biswajit Kundu, MLA, Purba Burdwan
Several party leaders and MLAs accused Kishor and subsequently I-PAC of “telling them what to do”.
Purba Burdwan TMC MP reiterated, “We became MLA or MP through politics. Prashant Kishor did not make us MLA or MP. The party cannot run in this way.”
Mondal did not enjoy “the young boys telling veterans how to behave, what to wear and how to engage in their political activities. It is sad that after so many years of political experience, we are being given lessons in politics by some incompetent young brigade working for Kishor.”
Some leaders have also alleged that Kishor and his team have prevented them from holding rallies or public meetings – one of them being TMC MLA from Howrah’s Shibpur Jatu Lahiri.
“The common people are not getting services. The Howrah Municipal Corporation election is due for the last two years. The members associated with Kishor have forced me to hold several programmes but no one should have the right to force anyone else for organising programmes.”Jatu Lahiri, MLA, Shibpur
It must also be noted that Howrah is one of the districts which received an overhaul in the organisational rejig. State Sports Minister Laxmi Ratan Shukla was made the president of the Howrah metropolis unit while a young face in the name of Pulak Roy was made in charge of Howrah rural.
With an increasing list of leaders miffed with Prashant Kishor, we are left wondering –will he be the X-factor that ensures a third TMC term in the state or will he be their Achilles Heel?