On 12 February evening, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee dissolved all posts of the party's national working committee and reconstituted the 20-member committee. This comes at a time when differences are widening between Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee, MP from Bengal’s Diamond Harbour constituency.
Significantly, Abhishek Banerjee, who was appointed as the party’s national general secretary in June last year, no longer holds the post. Barring Chairperson Mamata Banerjee’s post, all positions ceased to exist. The national working committee is the highest decision-making body of TMC.
After a 50-minute-long meeting at senior Banerjee’s residence in Kalighat, party secretary-general and minister Partha Chatterjee told reporters, “A national executive committee has been formed with 20 members and Mamata Banerjee as the chairperson. She will nominate the office-bearers soon and we will communicate it to the Election Commission accordingly.”
Senior leaders and MPs Saugata Roy and Derek O’Brien, considered close to Abhishek, were dropped from the committee.
At the moment, TMC is on a political high—it has recently swept all the seats in the recent by-elections, got absolute majority in the state’s largest and politically significant corporation, its main rival— the BJP facing desertions at different levels, and the party is now trying to expand outside West Bengal. Why is the party then struggling with its internal functioning? This story tries to answer the question.
Who is At the Helm of Affairs?
There was never any doubt on who was at the helm of affairs in TMC. But over the years, with defections of important leaders like Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari, more responsibilities and power went towards Abhishek Banerjee.
After the 2019 Lok Sabha election, junior Banerjee emerged as a de facto number two, even though he was not a part of the mother organisation and was the president of TMC youth wing. With the 2021 state assembly results, further consolidated his position and was promoted to the post of national general secretary, once held by Roy and ardent Mamata loyalist Subrata Bakshi.
Abhishek was also instrumental in bringing poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his firm Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) onboard after the debacle in the parliamentary elections.
After taking the charge of all India general secretary, Abhishek charted out the future path of TMC as it embarked on a journey to expand its footprint outside Bengal.
Of late, Abhishek was miffed with some of the party's policy decisions—like accepting the defectors, implementation of ‘One, Person, One Post’ policy. Things got worse when candidates of his choice were not given tickets by the party for the recent municipal elections.
In a television interview aired on 6 February, Abhishek spoke on certain issues and his differences with his aunt.
“Mamata's generosity allowed some defectors to return and get a position. If a decision has been taken, we will have to accept the party's decision. But people who deserted TMC to BJP during the time of election and now thinking they can easily join back, let me categorically say doors are closed for them.”Abhishek Banerjee
On the issue of ‘One, Person, One Post’ policy, he said, “In most positions it has been implemented, in future this policy will be streamlined even further.”
On 4 February, while the official candidate lists were being announced for the upcoming 108 civic body elections by senior leaders like Partha Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Bakshi, another list with different names was uploaded from TMC official Facebook page. This has prompted large scale confusions and led to protests in various parts of the state. The other list was allegedly prepared by I-PAC.
The political consultancy on 11 February tweeted saying, “I-PAC doesn't handle any digital properties of @AITCofficial or any of its leaders. Anyone making such a claim is either uninformed or is blatantly lying. AITC should look into if and how their digital properties and/or that of their leaders are being “allegedly (mis)used”.
A senior TMC leader and MLA from North 24 Parganas, on condition of anonymity, told this author, “Abhishek was charting his own path in the party. He doesn’t want concentration of power with few people. Old party guards didn’t like the idea. They even complained to Mamata Banerjee over the excessive involvement and influence of I-PAC in running the party.”
After the ticket distribution event, “I support One, Person, One Post” started trending in social media. To which minister Firhad Hakim said, “It is not the party's official position. Mamata Banerjee has the last word in the party.”
Amid all these, it was speculated that Abhishek will step down and resign from his party position. Speculations grew after Aditi Gayen, a niece of the chief minister, wrote in a tweet, “Don’t be afraid to start over again. This time, You’re not starting from scratch, You’re starting from EXPERIENCE.”
I-PAC, TMC to Part Ways: Sources
These recent developments have irked Mamata as she called an urgent meeting on Saturday and disbanded all posts of the apex committee.
A source close to the chief minister told this author, “Abhishek is unlikely to be appointed the national general secretary again. Even if he is reappointed as the national general secretary, then there will be more than one such post holder.” The source said that Banerjee wants to make it very apparent that his position in the party has been diluted.
The source also said that TMC supremo didn’t like the way party’s Goa campaign was conducted and that is the reason she didn’t visit the coastal state after 14 December, even after she was named in the star campaigners list.
Although the senior leaders said, TMC’s working relation with I-PAC was not discussed at Saturday's meeting; the author has learned that the political consultancy firm is actively working for an exit.
A senior member of I-PAC told this author, “Last week, our field team was asked to return and report in the Kolkata office. Manifesto works for upcoming municipality polls have been stopped and handed over to the party. Last week, some employees were already fired.”
This author has sent a detailed questionnaire to Pratik Jain, one of the directors of I-PAC and the in charge of West Bengal project. The story will be updated if and when he responds.
Meanwhile, TMC appointed Kunal Ghosh, Chandrima Bhattacharya and Aroop Biswas to handle the operations of media coordination.