It has taken him less than five years to rise from political oblivion to the virtual ‘number two’ position in the Trinamool Congress but Abhishek Banerjee, the party chief’s beloved nephew has remained at the centre of controversies.
The 27-year-old has outpaced senior leaders in his breakneck rise up the party ranks with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee entrusting him with important affairs both within and outside the Trinamool Congress.
The Diamond Harbour MP has been fielded by the party boss to take on the likes of BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in important public meetings, signaling Mamata’s intent on grooming him to fill her shoes and take vital party decisions.
But despite staying away from the media, Mamata’s favourite has hit the headlines often, with his Tuesday warning to the Opposition the latest in a string of controversial statements.
His personal attack on BJP leader Siddharth Nath Singh where he said "If Lal Bahadur Shastri had known how his grandson would turn out to be, he would remain unmarried", left the party red-faced.
The controversy had barely died down when he stoked another one by telling the media that the Jadavpur University students were protesting against the vice-chancellor in order to secure the liberty to have drugs, ganja and alcohol on campus.
In January this year, Abhishek Banerjee stood by while party workers almost lynched a mentally-ill person who slapped him at a public meeting.
Mamata Banerjee politically launched her nephew ahead of the 2011 assembly polls, when posters, banners and hoardings calling for change were issued by a hitherto-unknown entity called Yuva dotted Kolkata. Mamata went on to win a historic landslide in the elections, pushing out the Left Front government for the first time in 34 years.
Abhishek’s new youth outfit was formally announced at a mammoth party rally the same year on June 21, despite the Trinamool already having a youth wing headed by Tamluk MP Suvendu Adhikary, arguably the most popular Trinamool leader after Mamata.
The parallel youth wing irked Adhikary and triggered cold vibes between Mamata and Suvendu that lasted until the recent tussle between Mamata and the party’s de facto number-two, Mukul Roy. Mukul was questioned by the CBI in the multi-crore Saradha scam amid rumours that he was ready to turn on the Trinamool chief.
According to party insiders, the Mamata- Mukul altercation had more to do with the rise of Abhishek than the chit fund scam. Abhishek, who became an MP in 2014, was inducted into the party state committee soon after.
An MBA from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management in New Delhi, Abhishek was targeted by the CPI(M) and BJP for his burgeoning assets (Rs 1.52 crore in 2014) and controversial bank transactions but was shielded by the party.
Currently, Abhishek is often deployed to lead party programmes in Kolkata and New Delhi. As Mamata’s projected heir to the Trinamool Congress throne, experts say his rise may have only begun.