Sixty public events — 46 rallies and 14 road shows — covering 60 assembly constituencies and 10 districts of West Bengal over 26 days.
That’s how busy Abhishek Banerjee is. The 33-year-old has emerged as the second-biggest campaigner for the party — after his aunt, chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Notwithstanding the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s “tolabaz bhaipo (extortionist nephew)” jibes, he is crisscrossing the entire length and breadth of the state in order to boost the TMC’s chances in a fiercely fought election.
News18 exclusively has accessed Abhishek Banerjee’s election schedule till April 8, when campaigning for the fourth of the total eight phases will end. It shows that his schedule is as exhaustive as that of any top BJP leader, and is just a shade below the CM’s itineraries.
And all this despite the BJP’s repeated attack on Abhishek Banerjee over corruption charges. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has referred to him as the “single-window in the state” to get work done. But the TMC is unperturbed, which underscores the importance of Abhishek Banerjee, who, like her aunt, has been allotted a chopper for campaigning.
AN EXTENSIVE CAMPAIGN
Sample this. Abhishek Banerjee began his campaign for Phase 1 (March 27) on March 14. As of March 31, he has held 39 rallies and road shows, visiting districts such as Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura in western parts of the state, and East and West Medinipur districts in south Bengal. On March 31, he travelled to Cooch Behar and Alipurduar in north Bengal for three rallies. From April 2 to April 8, he will be on campaign trail again — with 21 more public events — and focus on the TMC stronghold of South 24-Parganas; his Lok Sabha seat, Diamond Harbour, falls in this district. He will attend 11 public events in South 24-Parganas over the next one week, as winning the maximum number of seats here is a matter of prestige. Besides, he will also campaign in the key districts of Howrah and Hooghly.
Abhishek Banerjee is also a key player monitoring activities on voting days; he has not campaigned on the two days (March 27 and April 1) polling have taken place so far. He will, however, head out for campaigning on April 6 (third phase) in South 24-Parganas, but only after 5pm — when the voting process will largely be over. Earlier, on March 18, he took a break from campaigning. In an interview to News18 last month, Firhad Hakim, a senior TMC leader and a key Mamata Banerjee aide, said: “The torch has to be carried forward by the next generation…no one can have any objection if Abhishek comes forward for the same” in the TMC.
TMC insiders told News18 that the idea behind having Mamata Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee as key campaigners is “to cover all the assembly constituencies”, even as they pointed out that both leaders will campaign in important seats such as Nandigram, where the CM is contesting against her lieutenant-turned-rival, Suvendu Adhikari.
While Mamata Banerjee camped in Nandigram for the three days before polling on April 1, Abhishek Banerjee held a rally there on March 24. On some occasions, the CM did a rally in a particular seat, and a few days later her nephew visited the same place “to solidify the gains”, a TMC leader said. This leader added that there were certain constituencies in which the party wanted to put in more effort, as these were either prestige seats where the TMC was eyeing a big-margin victory, or seats having a new candidate, or places where close contests were expected. “Abhishek is a big draw for the youth as he is also the leader of the TMC’s youth wing. He gets good crowds,” the leader said.
News18 attended one such rally in West Medinipur on March 23 to find a sizeable crowd of the youth waiting to listen to him; this is in contrast to the CM’s rallies in which women can be seen in large numbers. “The youth are a vote bank that the BJP is trying to attract in West Bengal. They don’t know how popular Abhishek is among them. He has the ability to mobilise people and is one leader, after the CM, who is getting good crowds…people want to hear and get a glimpse of him,” another senior TMC leader said.
Abhishek Banerjee is trying to forge a connection with the crowd by playing the “outsider card” against BJP leaders. He is also countering the BJP by citing state government schemes, which he says are more beneficial in comparison to central programmes such as Ayushman Bharat. “The external (bahari) leaders of the BJP, who are insulting the people of Bengal, will be rejected…Bengal wants its own daughter (Mamata Banerjee), and not outside forces that want to destroy the atmosphere of peace and harmony in the state,” he said in one of his rallies in north Bengal on Wednesday.
The BJP, in comparison to the TMC, has got a battery of top leaders campaigning in Bengal. A senior BJP leader told News18 that the party was not bothered by Abhishek Banerjee’s extensive campaigns. “The more Abhishek campaigns, the more anger it creates in the minds of people against this dynastic and corrupt politics of the TMC, and works in the favour of the BJP,” the leader said. The TMC and Abhishek Banerjee, however, are out to prove the BJP wrong