“Remove the tolabaaj bhaipo (corrupt nephew)”, roared rebel Trinamool Congress leader Suvendu Adhikari as he joined the BJP in his home turf of Midnapore at a rally presided by Home Minister Amit Shah. Adhikari’s exit from the party, the biggest in a series of recent defections from the TMC to the BJP, comes after the former minister made his disagreements with Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, painfully public.
The antagonism against Banerjee has been a theme in most of these defections, with many leaders stating that the party was “not run by Didi (Mamata) anymore”. Abhishek, who is the Trinamool’s no. 2 currently, has also been a sustained target for the BJP in its campaigns against the TMC, never ceasing to remind that dynastic politics exists in Bengal as well. The Pishi-Bhaipo (Aunt-nephew) jibes have become a daily part of BJP news conferences and social media posts alike.
With barely a few months to go for the West Bengal assembly elections, the reticent ‘Yuvraj’ (Prince) Banerjee is increasing having the spotlight positioned directly at him.
A ‘Naughty’ Student Who Loved Cricket
Now 33 years old, Abhishek grew up in the shadows of Mamata’s political career. Veteran Trinamool beat journalists recall how they’d sometimes see a 9-10 year old Abhishek playing cricket whenever they visited her Kalighat residence.
“He would ask us if we’d like to hit a few balls with him”, said a senior journalist.
A student of the city’s Nava Nalanda school, a teacher who taught him in 7th grade says that Abhishek wasn’t known to be the best student. But he enjoyed being outdoors.
Banerjee then went on to pursue his BBA and MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) in Delhi, an institute which later got mired in controversies for fraudulent practices.
Son of Mamata’s brother Amit and his wife Lata, who is still known to be a close confidant of the Chief Minister, Abhishek does not have a history in student politics. In his early days he’d be spotted as a “guest” in Mamata’s dharnas and rallies
It was 2014 onwards that, on the insistence of Mamata’s then Man Friday, Mukul Roy, that Abhishek was brought in to muzzle growing power centres within the party. Roy, who has since had a falling out with the TMC, and in now in the BJP, was also reportedly sidelined by Abhishek.
Entry Into Politics
In order to reign in Suvendu Adhikari who was then President of the Trinamool Youth Congress, Mamata floated a front call the Trinamool Yuva and made Abhishek in-charge. A report by India Today, says that Abhishek ran the outfit like a corporate institution and managed to make 28 crore rupees in membership.
In 2014, after the Diamond Harbour parliamentary constituency fell vacant due incumbent Somen Mitra’s resignation, the party leadership egged Abhishek to contest the seat in the general elections. Abhishek won the seat, making him the youngest parliamentarian that year at the age of 26.
In the same year, Abhishek replaced Suvendu as the president of the Trinamool youth wing. Thereafter, his clout increased in the party coming to a point now where he’s responsible for resource management, delegation and electioneering for the party.
The Prince of Kolkata
Abhishek’s lifestyle and persona has, since the beginning, been markedly different from that of Mamata’s. While the aunt flaunts here minimal, almost austere lifestyle, Abhishek lives in a swanky South Kolkata house, surrounded by commandos and rides shiny SUVs.
He also holds a massive sports tournament in Diamond Harbour every year which reportedly costs around 15-20 crores.
Famously, Mamata Banerjee skipped Abhishek’s 2012 wedding in Delhi where he got married in a lavish manner. However, she is said to be very close to Abhishek’s two daughters.
Abhishek’s rise also coincided with allegations of extortion, corruption and illegal businesses against the party. Some of this may have happened independent of Abhishek but he too faced allegations.
However, amidst all this, he remained inaccessible, even more inaccessible than Mamata Banerjee.
In the process, however, he clipped the wings of those within the TMC whose ambitions may have “exceeded that of the party”. Roy, Adhikari and even leaders like Soumitra Khan fell in the process.
This also caused rumblings amongst veteran leaders in the party who believed that Abhishek did not go through the political grind and had all his power handed to him.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Abhishek was given a key role in organizing the campaign for the TMC, and while he managed to win his own seat, the party’s below par performance in the elections means that Abhishek is yet to lead it to victory.
Recovering from the massive loss, it was on Abhishek’s insistence that Mamata roped in political strategist Prashant Kishor and his consultancy firm, the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), to manage the party’s campaign in 2021 elections.
Prashant Kishor And Rumblings Within The Trinamool
Kishor and I-PAC soon took over all the organization and operational reigns of both the party and the West Bengal government. As a consequence, Abhishek’s word became the last word in the party. Kishor and his team, on the basis of “mass surveys” sidelined veteran district-level leaders who were seen as dissenters or corrupt.
With the elections approaching, the party removed senior leaders who were observers in the district and a separate party committee was formed in each district. These committees were overseen by a central committee and the helm of which was Abhishek.
Over the years, Abhishek has kept himself away from direct public interaction. While his reputation as an able manager may seem to be growing, he is yet to cement himself as a mass leader that Mamata is seen as.