Differences between CM Mamata, Abhishek led to civic poll candidature fiasco: TMC leaders
Discrepancies in around 150 of 2200 names in two lists announced almost simultaneously on Friday evening triggered agitations on Saturday in 19 Bengal districts where elections will be held in two phases in February.
Differences between Trinamool Congress (TMC) chairperson and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, the party’s national general secretary and face of the 24-year-old organization’s youth brigade, has led to the fiasco over list of candidates for the upcoming polls in the state’s 108 civic bodies, TMC officer-bearers said on Sunday.
Abhishek Banerjee holds the second position in the party’s hierarchy and is seen as the driving force behind the TMC’s decision to contest polls in other states, including Goa.
Discrepancies in around 150 of 2200 names in two lists announced almost simultaneously on Friday evening triggered agitations on Saturday in 19 Bengal districts where elections will be held in two phases in February. The police had to resort to baton charge to disperse agitators at Maheshtala in South 24 Parganas district while at Kamarhati in North 24 Parganas, TMC trade union workers suspended bus services and stopped work at a jute bill.
One list, which was approved by the chief minister, was physically released by TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee and national vice-president Subrata Bakshi, while the other was uploaded on the party’s Facebook page and Twitter handle.
“The party will field around 2200 people. Mamata Banerjee has reservations about around 150 names in the list that was uploaded on social media without her knowledge,” a senior TMC leader said on condition of anonymity.
Kolkata mayor and Mamata Banerjee’s close aide, Firhad Hakim, said the second list was uploaded by people who were given unauthorized access to the TMC’s digital media passwords.
Hakim did not name anyone as a suspect but a section of leaders from the old brigade accused Indian Political Action Committee, or I-Pac, the company launched by election strategist Prashant Kishor who has been hired by TMC.
Despite the serious nature of Hakim’s allegation, the digitally published list was not removed till 6 pm on Sunday. “If this was a case of password theft, why weren’t the posts on Facebook and Twitter removed in 48 hours?” asked a leader who did not want to be named.
Speaking to HT on condition of anonymity, a close aide of Kishor said: “I-Pac is in no way involved in selecting candidates for the civic polls. We had no role in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation polls held in December. Our job in Bengal ended with the assembly polls in March-April last year. Since I-Pac is working with TMC in other states, such as Goa, our Hyderabad office was requested to provide an old survey report in which ideal candidates were listed in preferential order. We did not do anything beyond that. I-Pac will be compelled to reply if it is accused in this manner.”
TMC leaders aware of the tussle inside the organization said it is likely to increase in the coming days. Neither Mamata Banerjee nor Abhishek spoke to the media on Sunday.
A controversy has started even over some names in the “official” list. Though Partha Chatterjee announced that the selection process was governed by some new riders, such as ban on candidature for two people from the same family, several deviations were detected. Chatterjee said changes were being made and only those revised lists that have his signature and that of Bakshi’s should be considered as official.
TMC leaders were not willing to speak on record. However, some of them admitted that they saw something coming when the chief minister, while addressing an internal meeting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members on January 27, sent out a strong message. Abhishek, who represents the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency, was present.
“Those who have become leaders in recent years should not take autocratic decisions. Nobody is above the party. We had painstakingly built the organisation from scratch. From now on I will give more time to the party by taking out time from my administrative duties,” Banerjee was quoted to have said.
During the meeting, the chief minister pulled up Aparupa Poddar, a young MP, for making public statements against Kalyan Banerjee, a senior Lok Sabha member who had virtually challenged Abhishek Banerjee’s leadership a few days earlier.
“Why talk about Diamond Harbour? We know only Mamata Banerjee. She is our supreme leader,” Kalyan Banerjee said in January 14, reacting to the special Covid-19 management drive started on January 8 in Abhishek Banerjee’s constituency.
The drive became a talking point as a section of opposition leaders accused the chief minister, who is also in charge of the health department, of ignoring the state’s remaining 41 constituencies while others, such as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national vice-president Dilip Ghosh, said the so-called Diamond Harbour healthcare model was a sign of growing differences between an aunt and her nephew. Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Kalyan Banerjee could not have made the remarks unless he had the tacit support of the chief minister.
Madan Mitra, the TMC legislator from Kamarhati and a Mamata loyalist, joined the bickering. “There is no way party leaders can meet or talk to Abhishek Banerjee. He is never available in his office,” Mitra said in a social media post on January 15.
The Bengal BJP, which is yet to release its list of candidates for 104 civic bodies, may take advantage of the differences in the TMC by fielding the dissidents, a ruling party leader said.
Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said: “The TMC is facing the inevitable because it was running all these years without any principle and policy. It institutionalized corruption and that has triggered the differences over selection of candidates. The TMC tried its best to stop this by postponing civic elections for three years.”