Mamata quells rebellion brewing in Trinamool with clinical precision

On Friday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee constituted the “National Working Committee” reinstating Abhishek Banerjee as the All-India General Secretary of the party. However, the Trinamool Congress supremo clipped his wings by including her loyalists in all the layers of the working committee, She, thus not only healed the rift within the party but re-established her firm control over the organisation.

Banerjee, who had earlier dissolved all the posts and formed a 20-member working committee, reinstated Abhishek Banerjee as the All-India General Secretary but evenly balanced his powers by including three national vice-presidents — Subrata Bakshi, Chandrima Bhattacharya and Yashwant Sinha — all considered to be close to her.

The others who found place in the new working committee include Amit Mitra, Partha Chatterjee, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Anubrata Mondal, Aroop Biswas, Firhad Hakim, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and Mahua Moitra, considered to be trusted aides of the chief minister. Leaders like Saugata Roy, Derek O’Brien and Kunal Ghosh who owe their allegiance to Abhishek Banerjee have been left out of the committee. Firhad Hakim has been entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating with the Chairperson of the party.

Political analysts are of the opinion that this carefully chosen working committee is an effort to quell any kind of rebellion in the near future. “There will be no one-man show in the party apart from the chief minister and all the posts are finely balanced. Most interestingly Firhad Hakim’s new post is the product of the present crisis within the TMC and an initiative to avoid future similar types of crisis,” political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.

This is not the first time since the inception of the Trinamool Congress in 1997 that Mamata Banerjee has faced a rebellion within the party and in most of the cases it came from the closest of her aides. Whether it be Mukul Roy or Suvendu Adhikary, Sudip Bandyopadhyay or Subrata Mukherjee, Mamata Banerjee has blunted them with clinical precision.

Mamata after forming the party first faced a challenge from Ajit Panja — one of the most towering personalities and leader who was also the founder member of the party. Panja fell out with Banerjee when she decided to quit the NDA over the Tehelka expose in 2001.

Following Panja’s public outburst against Banerjee, including calling her ‘insane’, the TMC stripped him of all posts, including that of the chairperson of the party’s policy making body in April 2001, and suspended him in July. He was taken back into the party in 2004 and Panja contested the Lok Sabha election from the Calcutta North-East seat but lost. Panja died in 2008.

Pankaj Banerjee — one of the most trusted aides of Mamata Banerjee whom she made chairman after the party was formally formed on January 1, 1998 — fell out with her and returned to the Congress in June that year. Later he came back and Mamata again made him the chairman of the party’s policy making body and after after the 2001 assembly election, made him the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly. Pankaj again developed differences with her in 2006 and retired from politics altogether.

One of the four sitting Congress MLAs who joined the TMC at the time the party was born, Sudip Bandyopadhyay was the TMC’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha since 1999. In 2003, the party rejoined the NDA. Trouble broke out in the TMC after Mamata got information that the BJP was planning to induct her as a cabinet minister and Sudip as a junior minister.

Mamata fell out with Sudip Bandyopadhyay because he shared a good relationship with the then Union Home Minister L K Advani. Mamata thought that Sudip was behind everything and Advani was interfering in the party’s internal affairs and taking decisions without consulting her. She refused to accept her portfolio and expelled Bandyopadhyay from the party.

In 2006, Bandyopadhyay won the assembly election on a Congress ticket. However, in 2008, Mamata took him back into the party and gave him the Lok Sabha election ticket in 2009. Since 2011, he has been serving as the party’s leader in Parliament. In 2014, Mamata also gave an assembly bypoll ticket to Naina Bandyopadhyay. She continues to be a TMC MLA.

Another founder member of her party, Mukul Roy was perhaps the closest of her aides since 1997. He was known as the uncrowned ‘number 2’ in the party even before it came to power and all the more so after 2011. However, Roy fell out with Banerjee, apparently over Abhishek’s sudden rise which he thought was a threat to his organisational power. They again fell out in 2017. The rift between Mamata and Roy reached a flashpoint and he was shown the door in 2017 after which he joined the BJP. The veteran leader again came back to the TMC after the 2021 assembly polls.

These are only some of the most prominent leaders but there are many more who had defected from the party. Interestingly enough most of them have returned to the party and Mamata Banerjee has never deserted them. Whether it be Rajib Banerjee or Sabyasachi Dutta the leaders who had once served the party but left because of some differences have always found a place of honour when they decided to come back.

But this was closer home. It not only involved her nephew and expected successor but he was also getting support from other members of Banerjee’s family who are of his generation – one of Mamata’s nieces, Aditi Gayen and another nephew, Akash Banerjee, for example.

Having brought in political strategist Prashant Kishor to work with the party after the backlash in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Abhishek was considered one of the architects of the party’s 2021 victory and the party chief had probably thought it was the right time to initiate the succession process.

However, a set of events over the past one month indicated a souring of their relations, culminating in Abhishek’s indications that he might step down. Mamata Banerjee took it as his ploy to blackmail her. History is proof that she has never taken blackmailing lightly.

“By dissolving all the posts last week, she made it clear that she is still at the helm of the party. She reinstated Abhishek as the All-India General Secretary but gave a clear message that she has forgiven him but he will have to acknowledge his mistake and accept her superiority,” a senior cabinet minister considered to be close to Banerjee said.


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