The Trinamool Congress (TMC) was once entirely a Mamata Banerjee show. In recent years, the West Bengal chief minister’s nephew and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee emerged as the second-most important force after her in the party. But, with Wednesday’s Cabinet reshuffle, Abhishek’s influence, according to party insiders, now extends directly to the government.
Earlier, TMC ministers used to pay homage to their party chairperson after taking the oath of office, saying they will work under Mamata Banerjee’s guidance. On Wednesday, new ministers such as Partha Bhowmik, now in charge of the Department of Irrigation and Waterways, and Birbaha Hansda, who was already in the council of ministers, said they would look to meet the expectations of the CM as well as Abhishek.
The Cabinet reshuffle has the fingerprints of the Diamond Harbour MP who, according to party insiders, was also the prime mover behind the decision to expel former minister Partha Chatterjee from the party after his arrest in connection with the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) probe into an alleged school recruitment scam. All the eight new ministers have a comparatively clean public image and of the eight Babul Supriyo, Bhowmick, and Snehashish Chakraborty are said to have close links with Abhishek. In addition, existing Cabinet ministers such as Moloy Ghatak and Pulak Roy are also said to be close to TMC’s de facto second-in-command.
“It is clear that Abhishek Banerjee’s influence is spreading in the Cabinet too. He wanted to bring Babul Supriyo and Partha Bhowmick to the forefront and we were expecting this. He has already full control of the party organisation. On Monday, our party leadership changed district presidents and chairpersons. We know the decision was finalised after approval from Abhishek,” said a senior TMC leader.
Another senior TMC functionary said the Diamond Harbour MP may soon play an even bigger role in the state government. “Abhishek is coming up step by step, we were expecting it. Soon, not only his men but he himself will enter the state Cabinet.”
Old guard on back foot
The increasing number of ministers seen as close to Abhishek is bad news for the party’s old guard, which managed to get the CM to rein in her nephew earlier this year. But they have been on the back foot since Chatterjee’s arrest and expulsion.
The way Covid-19 dealt with the Covid-19 crisis earlier this year was distinct from the TMC government’s stance and the touting of his “Diamond Harbour’ model caused the old guard to register their objections with Mamata. Political strategist Prashant Kishor’s company I-PAC, which rubbed many of these old-timers the wrong way with its inputs, was also seen as Abhishek’s import to the TMC. The rift between the two sides widened over the TMC candidates’ list for 108 civic bodies. The tussle came to the fore after two candidate lists were released for the polls. While one was published by senior leaders such as Partha Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Aroop Biswas, and Subrata Bakshi, another popped up on the party’s official website and was said to have been the one formulated by I-PAC.
At the time, Mamata Banerjee stepped in to keep the old guard happy and dissolved all national-level positions in the party, including the national general secretary post that Abhishek had been promoted to following the Assembly election victory in 2021. The TMC chief then carried out an organisational reshuffle. She subsequently reinstated her nephew as the TMC national general secretary and expressed her faith in him as the leader of the party’s next generation.