Kolkata: Trinamool Congress’s Abhishek Banerjee, who is also West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, has emerged as the BJP’s favourite target as the young politician is groomed as the future leader of the party.
Mamata Banerjee will remain in charge, say Trinamool leaders as they admit in the same breath that Abhishek Banerjee’s stature and role in the party has grown in the last few years. The 33-year-old – a second-term MP from South 24 Parganas District’s Diamond Harbour – has been the BJP’s punching bag amid a high-pitched election campaign.
On his last two trips to Bengal, Home Minister Amit Shah took a dig at the ruling Trinamool with the “Bua-Bhatija (aunt-nephew)” jibe. “Modi Sarkar is for Garib Kalyan (welfare of the poor), Mamata Sarkar is for Bhatija Kalyan (welfare of the nephew). She (Mamata Banerjee) is wondering when she can make her nephew Chief Minister. If Dilip Ghosh had not fought here she would have made the announcement by now,” he had earlier said.
On Thursday, Mr Shah sharpened the attack. Speaking at an election rally in Kakdwip city, close to Abhishek Banerjee’s Lok Sabha constituency, he said: “The Trinamool Congress has only one slogan. Bhatija Bachao. Bhatija Kalyan (Save the nephew. Nephew’s welfare). The TMC has no other welfare in mind. For Bengal’s development, (Prime Minister) Modi ji sent money but all this money was sacrificed for Didi’s syndicate. Where did the money go? It was sacrificed for the welfare of bhaipo and his goondas (goons). When the BJP comes to power, we will investigate and put those responsible behind bars after proper legal action. Bengal’s money has been used and the BJP will ensure those responsible are put behind bars.”
Shortly after, Mamata Banerjee hit back at the BJP. “They only know how to say Didi-Bhatija. First fight the Bhatija… then think of fighting Didi (elder sister). If all you can see is Didi-Bhatija, then I challenge Amit Shah to contest against Abhishek Banerjee. Make your charges clear. And remember, your son is not free of corruption charges.”
“You hide your own son and abuse others, this is not acceptable. I maintain courtesy but don’t take this as my weakness. Every day you go on and on about Bhaipo-Bhatija. Your son is also my Bhatija. How did he become the Cricket body chief? How did he make so many crores? Should we talk about these things?” she further said.
Abhishek Banerjee’s stock in the Trinamool Congress has risen exponentially in the last few years. From being picked as a parliamentary candidate for the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat which he won convincingly even in 2019, he has become one of the key strategists for the Trinamool Congress in 2021.
Instrumental in bringing in Prashant Kishore, after the BJP’s surprise performance in 2019, he now drives the backroom management along with the poll-strategist. And apart from Mamata Banerjee, he is the only one who uses a helicopter to travel.
The BJP has repeatedly taunted Abhishek Banerjee by calling him “tolabaj bhaipo” or the “extortionist nephew”. Abhishek Banerjee has taken them on head on, especially rebel leader Suvendu Adhikari who blamed him and strategist Prashant Kishor for his exit from the Trinamool.
“Some turncoats from the Trinamool Congress who have sold their spine are attacking me from Midnapore. In the Narada tapes, you have been seen accepting money wrapped in newspaper. You are the tolabaaz (extortionist). And you say tolabaaz bhaipo (extortionist nephew) hatao. Your name is in the Sarada scam. You are the tolabaaz. And you say tolabaaz bhaipo hatao? I am not there in Narada or Sarada. And the ED or the CBI can do nothing to me.”
Mamata Banerjee has made no announcements on what her plans for Abhishek Banerjee are but his speeches are reminiscent of a younger self. His rallies are drawing huge crowds and he is a star campaigner for the party. He runs the Trinamool’s youth organisation, which often runs parallel to the party unit.
The 33-year-old, political observers say, brings to the table what the Trinamool was missing all this while.
Maidul Islam, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences says, “He is good with managing funds and he understands corporate capital. The move that he made with Prashant Kishore has been good in terms of drawing crowds and designing programmes. It’s quite good in terms of the delivery of team PK especially the articulation of Abhishek Banerjee and the coordination with regional chiefs. Even the slogans have changed now.”
Analysts say Mamata Banerjee needs Abhishek Banerjee as he brings a new idea to the Trinamool that it needs to survive in the long run. Adding that Mamata Banerjee has too much on her plate, Abhishek Banerjee is instrumental in handling the organisational responsibilities. In fact, this has led to run-ins with some of the other leaders of the Trinamool Congress who’ve moved out of the party, for example Suvendu Adhikari. They say the Trinamool Congress has become a “private limited company”.
Abhishek Banerjee has said the BJP is targeting him because when it comes to development, Mamata Banerjee is way ahead of them.
He has highlighted that there is no case against him while the BJP tries to link him to cow and coal smuggling rackets in the state. At a rally in South 24 Parganas, Mr Banerjee said, “They cannot talk about development so that are indulging in personal attacks. And they are attacking me. That’s good. Before they take on Mamata Banerjee in the political battlefield, I will defeat them by ten goals. They have repeatedly attacked me. Some are saying Bhaipo (nephew) Hatao. Some are saying tolabaaz bhaipo (extortionist nephew) hatao.”
Mamata Banerjee has taken on the BJP by attacking them with the “outsider” tag. Party insiders believe the Bihari vs Bahari campaign – a Prashant Kishor idea was adopted by Abhishek Banerjee. He makes it a point to highlight this in his rallies. And when it comes to his opponents, just like Mamata Banerjee, he doesn’t mince words.
“You don’t have the guts to take names but I am taking names. I am saying Dilip Ghosh is a goonda (goon). I am saying Amit Shah is an outsider. Do whatever you can. I am saying Kailash Vijayvargiya is an outsider and if you have the guts make a case and put me in jail. And I am taking a name. In front of TV cameras. I am saying Suvendu Adhikari bribe taker. If you have the guts file a case against me,” Abhishek Banerjee said.
When it comes to the charge of dynastic politics, Abhishek Banerjee says those who are making the charge are no better. “They are accusing me of dynastic politics. They (Suvendu Adhikari) are family of seven and five are in politics. And they are saying I am a dynast and this is Pishi-Bhaipo (Aunt-Nephew) government.”
Political analysts say while the old guard in the Trinamool have accepted Abhishek Banerjee’s promotion in the party, the second-generation leaders resist his rise. And it’s these leaders who are looking for options.
“The BJP’s strategy was to get leaders from the Trinamool to help them grow in West Bengal. Similarly, the Left and the Trinamool also know that if you can’t stop Abhishek Banerjee now he will come and become Chief Minister after Mamata Banerjee,” Maidul Islam says.
The BJP attacks on young leaders of opposition parties who are being groomed as future leaders have been the sharpest and most pointed. Whether its Aaditya Thackeray in Maharashtra, Tejashwi Yadav in Bihar or Abhishek Banerjee is West Bengal, the young leaders have faced the brunt of the BJP’s machinery. In the face of all-out attack, the onus is on Abhishek Banerjee to prove that he has it in him to fight a strong opponent like the BJP. The 2021 elections will have a lasting impact on his political future.