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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim is emerging as Mamata Banerjee’s man Friday | Analysis

In November 2018, Mamata Banerjee nominated Hakim to contest for the mayor’s chair. Hakim went on to become the first Muslim mayor of Kolkata since Independence.

india Updated: Aug 25, 2019 13:49 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Mamata Banerjee sitting on dharna with Mayor Firhad Hakim.
Mamata Banerjee sitting on dharna with Mayor Firhad Hakim. (HT file photo)
         

Ever since Mukul Roy quit Trinamool Congress to join the BJP, Mamata Banerjee has been struggling with a vacuum in her party. With astute political sense, a thorough knowledge of the party organisation across the state, Roy was a valuable number two in the Trinamool, on whom the chief minister could rely at all times.

Since Roy quit Trinamool in September 2017, Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim is emerging as Mamata Banerjee’s man Friday. At one of the most critical hours of her political life, the Trinamool supremo is depending on Hakim – popularly known as Bobby – on a variety of fronts, though none would compare Roy and Hakim on questions of political astuteness and knowledge of the party organisation.

Also read: Is Prashant Kishor facing his toughest challenge in Bengal? | Opinion

In November 2018, Mamata Banerjee nominated Hakim to contest for the mayor’s chair. Hakim went on to become the first Muslim mayor of Kolkata since Independence.

“Before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Mamata Banerjee pitched herself as a pro-minority leader, one of the outcomes of which was the choice of Hakim as the Kolkata mayor. Now, when she needs to strike a balance, Firhad again suits the role more than anyone else in her team,” said political analyst Anjan Sengupta who thinks that Prashant Kishor has advised the Trinamool chief to scale down her pro-minority stand.

Hakim’s mother was a Hindu before marriage. Hakim’s two sisters are married to Hindu families. The mayor’s name is also synonymous with Chetla Agrani Sangha that organises one of the most high-profile community Durga pujas in Kolkata. Between June 2017 and June 2019, Hakim was also the chairman of the Tarakeshwar Development Board that manages the famous Shiva temple in the town of Tarakeshwar.

Significantly, before Bakr Id on August 12, Hakim asked the people (read Muslims) to observe it responsibly. Political analysts such as former union culture secretary Jawhar Sircar found it profoundly important. “The message is clear – TMC does not want the sentiments of the majority community to be hurt,” he said.

Significantly, in early July, Hakim piloted a Kolkata Municipal Corporation public relations drive as the mayor that seems to be a precursor of the CM’s ‘Didike Bolo’ image makeover campaign. Launching a model that was a small-scale version of the chief minister’s campaign, Hakim urged citizens to telephone him directly every Wednesday for an hour in case of deficiency in municipal services.

Firhad Hakim has also been leading the party’s fight to wean away Trinamool councillors in different municipalities who had joined the BJP after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the case of two civic bodies, TMC councillors joined back the ruling party in presence of Hakim, who is also the urban development minister.

Officials in the urban development department say that after the Lok Sabha polls, Hakim has been devoting more time to party and political affairs.

Hakim’s role is increasingly becoming significant since the chief minister is trying to reinvent herself as a calm and composed person, who has reined in her mercurial temperament.

A senior bureaucrat, who has worked both with the Left Front and Mamata Banerjee government, said that Hakim has another important utility. “He is one of the very few leaders, who have working relationships with all Trinamool Congress leaders. In a party, where factionalism is a defining element, this is no small matter. This has also weighed in favour of Hakim, who is neither a mass leader, nor is an exceptional speaker,” said the bureaucrat.

Those who have eyes and ears behind closed doors of the ruling party also say that Hakim has ironed out differences with Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee.

However, there are differing voices. “The Bobby Hakim I knew was a man of secular character. He never used to wear a skull cap. But I was disappointed hearing him speak on the triple talaq issue,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science of Rabindra Bharati University.

Hakim also carries the Narada taint. In a footage widely telecast in March 2016, he was seen disdainfully rejecting cash (about Rs 5 lakh) from a purported executive of a company, whom he asked to hand it over to his associate. He has, however, denied any wrong-doing.

BJP leader Mukul Roy often claims how Bobby (and his associates) once threw stones at the Kalighat residence of Mamata Banerjee, adding he saved Bobby, then a councilor, from the party leader’s ire. Hakim has clearly moved way ahead from those days when he had picked up stones.