‘Deadwood’, Youth, Caste: Decoding TMC’s New Look Before 2021
The Trinamool Congress, powered by Prashant Kishor, has undergone a structural revamp in the last year.
With the state elections less than a year away, the Trinamool Congress has undergone a structural and organisational revamp. Powered by poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s consultancy firm Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) and co-powered by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s constant attacks on the party’s institutional shortcomings, this new face of the Trinamool looks to transform the party’s jaded, stagnating image.
Over the last year, since Kishor’s firm was roped in the to steer the party’s election campaign, the Trinamool has tried to build an image of a pro-governance, youth-centric party. Its recent structural overhaul, sources say, is just a part of a larger facelift before the Assembly elections.
Removing the ‘Deadwood’
Factionalism proved to be one of the Trinamool’s biggest enemies in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Many key constituencies like Ranaghat and Balurghat were lost due to factionalism.
It is believed in the party that multiple older leaders who were very often “observers” in districts and also held various other organisational, and in some cases, legislative positions led to this factionalism in the districts.
In the Trinamool’s new party structure, therefore, the older, jaded leaders in the districts have been “promoted” to the position of District Chairman, the topmost position in the party’s district body.
“The Chairman’s position, though the topmost, is more like the position of the governor. It is a titular position, that of seniority. The responsibility of running the district, however, rests with the District President,” said a Trinamool insider.
“The function of the chairman will be to keep the factions together using their seniority and clout. The groundwork is to be handled by the president. Too many leaders will, therefore, not be vying for power,” they added.
In its new structure, a “State Coordination Committee” has been formed, which is the main working committee of the party.
The hierarchical committee has a seven-member “Steering Committee” at the top with senior party leader Subrata Bakshi as the convenor and other senior leaders like Abhishek Banerjee, Partha Chatterjee, Kalyan Banerjee and Firhad Hakim as members.
Under the Steering Committee is the main coordination committee, which has 21 members including including MPs Derek O’Brien, Sudip Bandopadhyay, and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar. The members of the steering committee are members of the coordination committee as well.
The coordination committee oversees the overall functioning of the party and the functioning of the district committee. The district committee, as mentioned earlier, has the chairman at the top, followed by the district president, and two district coordinators. Each district coordinator is in-charge of a cluster of three to four Assembly constituencies in each district and has to run electioneering in these constituencies in a manner better than before.
Countering the BJP’s Rising Popularity With the Youth
“In our surveys we found that the BJP is gaining momentum with the youth, especially in urban centres. That’s one of the reasons we have been focusing on youth-centric campaigns and have pushed for youth representation in the district committees,” said an I-PAC employee who worked on the project.
“It is new for the Trinamool to have leaders in their thirties or early forties as district presidents,” they added.
While the district chairman has been made the titular head in districts, the president of the district is the one expected to run the show. Insiders say that the party has made a deliberate effort to have young faces like Laxmi Ratan Shukla (39), Mahua Moitra (45), Partha Pratim Roy (38) etc, as heads of districts.
Top leaderships in certain districts, like in some parts of North Bengal, have been completely changed as senior leaders here were seen to be corrupt and “looting the districts,” said sources.
On the day that it announced its structural revamp, the Trinamool also reorganised its Youth Congress.
With Banerjee’s nephew and the party’s number two Abhishek Banerjee at the helm of the TMYC, it, too, followed a similar structure to that of the state coordination committee. The new TMYC district presidents have been instructed to form their district units and report back to the party within a week.
A couple of months ago, again planned by the I-PAC, the Trinamool launched a youth outreach campaign called Banglar Jubo Shokti. The aim of the campaign was to find over one lakh “Jubo Joddhas” or young warriors in the state. As per the last reports released by the party, over 5 lakh youths had registered for the initiative and Abhishek Banerjee recently gave each of them the responsibility to look after 10 families and help them battle the double whammy of COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan.
Caste, an Emerging Factor
One of the Trinamool’s biggest losses in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was that of Jangalmahal. The party lost all five parliamentary seats in the area with constituencies like Jhargram and Purulia seeing a massive saffron surge.
It seems that the party’s diagnosis of this, and also the BJP’s massive presence in North Bengal, is to have a more representative organisational structure.
Caste, traditionally, has never been a big decision-making factor in Trinamool organisationally. That seems to have changed now.
“We had districts like Jhargram, which is an ST district but all key party positions were with the Brahmins. Cooch Behar is majority Rajvanshi, but it also had upper caste party functionaries. It’s not like there is a new caste dynamic, but there is definitely an effort to think along those representational lines,” said a Trinamool leader.
For example, Gurupada Tudu, an ST leader, has been made district president of Purulia, a tribal district that earlier did not have an ST president. Similarly, a Rajvanshi leader has been put at the helm of Cooch Behar, and Hindi-speaking leaders have been deployed in Hindi-speaking areas like Asansol and Burdwan.
The “representational inclusion” that piqued the interest of many, though, was the induction of erstwhile “Maoist” leader Chhatradhar Mahato in the Trinamool state committee.
The state committee is independent of the coordination committee and is the usual party structure that the Trinamool followed in pre-IPAC times. In the present scheme, however, party workers say that the state committee holds no value.
“The state committee is a titular committee. The main restructuring is the setting up of the co-ordination committee. At this moment its not right to read too much into Mahato’s induction. The state committee position is not an important one. But, that does not mean that he will not be used electorally at a later time,” said a senior party leader.
Mahato was a people’s movement leader in Jhargram, in the once Maoist hotbed of Lalgarh, in the Jangalmahals. He was convicted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in 2009 and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015. In February 2020, he was released from jail and joined the Trinamool soon after.
As the party gears up for next year, more changes are in store, sources say. Will this poriborton work magic for Mamata Banerjee like it did in 2011? Time will tell.
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