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West Bengal elections — In spotlight: The nephew Banerjee

His rise has made him a target of not just BJP, but also driven out Mamata aides. Now the 33-yr-old faces the CBI.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata |
Updated: March 16, 2021 8:00:36 am
West Bengal elections — In spotlight: The nephew BanerjeeAbhishek Banerjee with Mamata at the Nandigram Day rally on Sunday. (PTI)

IF MAMATA Banerjee is known for her hard and long road to power in West Bengal, nephew Abhishek Banerjee is accused of exactly the opposite. Having first emerged on the scene after Mamata became Chief Minister in 2011, the 33-year-old is now the undeclared No. 2 in the Trinamool and the cause of heartburn for senior leaders, many of whom have since left the party.

The sitting MP from Diamond Harbour, Abhishek is also Mamata’s soft spot — as the BJP has realised. The party has made the “bhaipo (nephew)” one of the central targets of its campaign. Former Trinamool stalwarts such as Suvendu Adhikari, Saumitra Khan and others say he is actually the “tolabaaj bhaipo (extortionist nephew)”, accusing Abhishek of corruption.

 

Abhishek has said he would take his own life in public if any of these charges are proved true.

The son of Mamata’s brother Amit Banerjee, Abhishek was first seen by her side after the Trinamool ended the Left Front’s 34-year rule to come to power. Celebrated as a youth icon, the then 23-year-old was soon made the national president of the All India Trinamool Youth Congress. To bolster this image, Abhishek organises sports tournaments in his constituency every year.

In January 2014, when the Diamond Harbour parliamentary constituency fell vacant following party MP Somen Mitra’s resignation due to differences with the party leadership, Mamata named Abhishek as the replacement. Abhishek won the seat, becoming at age 26 among the youngest parliamentarians in 2014.

Among the first casualties of Abhishek’s meteoric rise was then Trinamool No. 2 Mukul Roy. Finding himself sidelined, and facing several cases, Roy moved to the BJP in 2017. Adhikari and Saumitra Khan, considered among the young leaders of the Trinamool, also found their wings clipped. Both are now in the BJP.

Following Roy’s departure, Abhishek was given responsibilities of managing the Trinamool election strategy. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls that followed, the Trinamool saw its tally fall from 34 seats to 22.

According to party sources, it was Abhishek who brought in political strategist Prashant Kishor to manage the Trinamool strategy for the 2021 Assembly polls, as the party sought to check the rise of the BJP.

Countering charges that he had got help to the top, Abhishek said in January that if that had been the case, “I would have held 35 posts today.”

While Mamata has tried to take back some control of the party lately, realising the growing resentment over Abhishek, the hand of the “pishi (aunt)” remains firmly on the nephew’s shoulder. Before a CBI team landed up at Abhishek’s house last month to question his wife Rujira Banerjee (they got married in 2012 and have two children) in connection with a coal pilferage and illegal mining case, Mamata strode out holding Abhishek’s daughter by the hand.

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