Troubled by infighting among district leaders of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the party’s youth wing president and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, and election strategist Prashant Kishor have been travelling together since Monday to iron out differences in the ranks ahead of the crucial assembly polls due in six months.
Though infighting is not new in the TMC, the current phase has its roots in the induction of younger faces in district committees after a reshuffle in July on Kishor’s recommendations. The structural changes have made many old-timers insecure.
Banerjee and Kishor discreetly held meetings with leaders from five north Bengal districts at a hotel near the Tenzing Norgay bus terminus in Siliguri on Monday and Tuesday. The districts are Darjeeling, Alipurduar, South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar and Malda.
On Wednesday, a similar meeting was held, though not so discreetly, with legislators, MPs and officer bearers from Hooghly district at Kishor’s office on Camac Street in the heart of Kolkata. TMC’s Bengal unit president Subrata Bakshi was also present.
Some of the legislators and TMC office bearers who were summoned to the Siliguri hotel said on condition of anonymity that Banerjee and Kishor – the two have been working in close coordination with each other since 2019 – met some leaders individually while the rest were called in groups.
Among the attendees, the most senior person was minister Goutam Deb who is from Siliguri town and represents the Dabgram-Phulbari constituency in Jalpaiguri. The only one who was reportedly not seen at the meetings despite being summoned was Mihir Goswami, the legislator from Cooch Behar South constituency, TMC leaders said.
“During the talks, Kishor dished out data on incidents of infighting and insubordination in each district. He mentioned incidents where anti-party statements were made in public. Abhishek Banerjee, on the other hand, gave clear instructions after hearing us during one-on-one meets to end infighting,” said a north Bengal leader, who did not want to be identified.
North Bengal is crucial for both the TMC and the BJP after the latter wrested seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in the region in 2019 and managed to win 18 of the state’s 42 seats. It was after this debacle that Kishor – who earlier helped the BJP, Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the YSR Congress Party win elections – was roped in by Mamata Banerjee.
In 2019, the TMC’s tally in the Lok Sabha came down from 34 seats to 22, giving the BJP a position to pose a challenge to Banerjee in 2021. In terms of the 56 assembly segments in the eight seats in north Bengal, the BJP is ahead of the TMC in 35. The West Bengal assembly has 294 seats.
BJP president J P Nadda will be visiting north Bengal on October 19 to interact with party workers and leaders and some prominent non-political persons as the party gears up for 2021 elections.
Explaining how the meetings went, a TMC leader said that Udayan Guha, who represents the Dinhata constituency in Cooch Behar, was cautioned for making an explosive statement at a party meeting on October 9 which put the party in the opposition’s line of fire.
In a video that went viral, Guha could be heard saying in Bengali, “you have eaten a lot. If you stop eating now, people will give you the opportunity to eat again in future.” It was apparent that he was talking of corruption.
A leader said that office-bearers from South Dinajpur and Malda, where infighting has cropped up, were asked to work together.
The meeting with leaders from the Hooghly district had to be held in Kolkata on Wednesday because two Lok Sabha members Kalyan Banerjee and Aparupa Poddar and three legislators, Tapan Dasgupata, Prabir Ghosal and Becharam Manna had all expressed their grievance against TMC district president Dilip Yadav. They said Yadav was taking autocratic decisions.
Hooghly district is crucial for the TMC. The agitation against acquisition of farmland for the proposed Tata Motors plant helped Mamata oust the Left Front government in 2011 but in 2019 the BJP wrested one out of three Lok Sabha seats in the district.
“While the meeting was on, the chief minister called Abhishek Banerjee and asked him to form a core committee with all those who are unhappy with Yadav. She said Yadav should be there in the committee along with Ashima Patra, the MLA from Dhanekhali and Snehasish Chakraborty, the MLA from Jangipara,” said a leader who attended the meeting.
The first meeting of this core committee will be held on Saturday.