On May 11, 2018, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee stunned everyone with her statement that she had prepared a “political will".
She urged West Bengal’s youth to come forward, join politics and carry her party’s mantle forward.
Almost exactly a year later, while addressing a political rally at Belpahari in Jhargram district on May 5, 2019, the chief minister once again emphasised that the youths were the future of the TMC.
“I was a youth activist and a student leader too," she underscored.
From her “political will" statement to the elevation of Abhishek Banerjee in the party, experts feel that Mamata Banerjee is certainly making more space for her nephew in the TMC, seeing him as someone who can steer it forward at the national level.
“In other words, it looks like 66-year-old Mamata Banerjee has started the process of passing the TMC’s responsibilities onto Abhishek’s shoulders. This is a normal process and there is nothing unusual. This happened in other states too where regional parties passed the baton to the younger generation, mostly those in the family,” political expert Kapil Thakur said. “More than Mamata Banerjee, it was union home minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who made Abhishek a political star in the assembly polls. It is due to the BJP that Abhishek Banerjee emerged as an influential leader in the TMC camp. His elevation as the all-India general secretary in Trinamool clearly shows that Mamata Banerjee is slowly handing over the party’s responsibilities to Abhishek.”
The results for the tumultuous eight-phase assembly elections announced on May 2 saw the incumbent TMC emerge victorious with a massive 213 of the 292 seats available. The Bharatiya Janata Party that had pulled out all stops to win the key state finished second with 77 seats. Many have apportioned a significant amount of the credit for Trinamool’s victory to Abhishek.
In the context of dynastic politics, Thakur said it’s not that Mamata Banerjee did not make space for other young leaders in the party. “She gave enough space to strong, young leaders like Saumitra Khan and Suvendu Adhikari. But both left the TMC and joined the BJP. Before Abhishek, it was Suvendu Adhikari who was the youth wing president of the party," he said.
Mamata herself was a fiery youth leader and led many ‘jubo andolan’ (youth movements) in the state. This is the reason why Shahid Diwas (Martyrs’ Day) on July 21 is one of the most important events for ‘Didi’, as Mamata is popularly known in Bengal. It is an annual mass rally organised by the Trinamool Congress in remembrance of 13 people gunned down by the Bengal police in Kolkata during a protest march organised by Mamata, who was then a Youth Congress leader, on July 21, 1993, while demanding voter identity card to be made the sole document necessary for voting.
Mamata’s consistent efforts to woo youngsters came along with her strategy to draft her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the TMC as president of the party’s youth wing in 2013. He has been serving as a Member of Parliament from the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency in South 24 Parganas district since 2014.
His induction in the TMC irked many party leaders including Mukul Roy who openly raised his voice against him and later joined the BJP after differences with Abhishek and Mamata over various issues. Roy returned to Trinamool last week.
However, over the years Abhishek has emerged as one of the most influential leaders in Bengal’s politics when it comes to carrying forward the TMC’s ideology among the youths in the state. Recently, he issued instructions to district leaders not to include anyone above 40 years of age in the youth wing.
In the past nine years, after coming to power in 2011, Mamata, besides working on reforms, has also squeezed out more space for youngsters in the TMC. So Suvendu Adhikari (the party’s key man in mobilising the masses during the Nandigram movement in East Midnapore, now in the BJP), Mahua Moitra (MP), Kargil war veteran (retd) Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (who looked after the TMC social media team, later joined the BJP), Laxmi Ratan Shukla (quit the party later), Pulak Roy, Nusrat Jahan (MP), Mimi Chakraborty (MP), etc, were given prominent positions in the party.
Even on July 23, 2020, Mamata gave more prominence to young faces while forming a seven-member core committee to fine-tune strategies for the 2021 assembly elections in the state.
Speaking to News18, TMC MP Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, said, “There is no doubt that Abhishek has worked hard to emerge as a people’s leader in Bengal. He is a two-time MP and won a tough seat like Diamond Harbour. As far as passing the baton is concerned, Didi (Mamata Banerjee) on many occasions has said that she will prepare a team of young leaders who will steer the party forward. It is a natural process in every party and in every state to pass the party’s responsibilities onto young leaders. I personally think that Abhishek has immense potential to take our party to the national level with his good organisational and oratory skills in Bangla, Hindi and in English.”
A quick look at Mamata’s past political stands clearly shows how she always gave due importance to young, efficient leaders in the party.
Mamata’s respect for the ‘juba shakti’ (youth power) is no secret to political experts; nor did the induction of election strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC (run by young people) on June 6, 2019, as the TMC’s political adviser come as a surprise.
Mamata’s special focus on youngsters became evident once again on January 27, 2020. While addressing a huge gathering of young Trinamool workers and supporters at a student-youth workshop at Netaji Indoor Stadium, Kolkata, she thanked all the students who had joined the movement against the Centre’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
“The students and the youth are the future of this country; it is they who would lead. I am happy that the students have taken over the responsibility of the movement,” she had said.
But Mamata’s May 11, 2018, interview with a regional television channel came as a surprise for everyone, owing to her “political will" comment.
While her statement was still doing the rounds in Bengal’s political circles with much speculation, her remark on July 21, 2020 (on Shahid Diwas) about “preparing dedicated youths for the TMC" as she “will not be there forever" came as an encrypted message on passing the baton to the next generation.
“Chiro Kal Ami Thakbo Na…Kothay Amar Jubo Joddha Ra…Tomra Egiye Esho…Ami Toiri Kore Diye Jabo (I will not be there forever…Where are my young warriors…Step forward…I will train you to serve Bengal before I go),” Mamata said.
Political expert and Professor of Jadavpur University (JU), Partha Pratim Biswas, said, “It may be true that Mamata Banerjee is trying to shift her responsibilities onto Abhishek’s shoulders but the big question is how acceptable he will be in the party. That is something which needs to be watched in the future. I believe that transition should be based on continuity, acceptability and it should be ‘andolan’ (movement) based. It should not be a pick-and-choose affair. Certainly Abhishek Banerjee has emerged as a strong leader, but what about other young leaders who do not have political experience and were placed in prominent positions? The process of selection is not very democratic and this is exactly the area where TMC could be in trouble internally over a long period. As far as Abhishek Banerjee’s elevation is concerned, I think, since Mamata Banerjee will now be the face against the BJP at the national level, her nephew’s role will be immensely important in handling the party regionally as well as nationally."
The BJP, however, argues that Abhishek will not have much of an effect on the national stage. Senior party leader Rahul Sinha said, “As far as his (Abhishek) elevation is concerned, I will not like to comment on it as this is entirely the TMC’s internal matter. All I can say is that Abhishek Banerjee will not be able to make much impact in national politics as the TMC’s all-India general secretary because their national presence is zero.”