Kolkata: A “personal opinion” expressed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) national general secretary and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee has stirred up a hornet’s nest within the party.
The MP’s contention, that all religious and political programmes should be postponed during the ongoing Covid third wave, contradicts what his aunt and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the health portfolio, has been saying so far on the issue.
The ensuing bickering, and the rift that this has exposed, has made the party leadership deeply uncomfortable, and members have been warned to keep their disagreements private.
The Mamata Banerjee government had refused to cancel the Ganga Sagar Mela, which was held last week and attended by lakhs of people. The government was also keen to conduct civic polls according to schedule until a Calcutta High Court order intervened and the elections were postponed from 22 January to 12 February. Last month too, the CM had said that the government would, as far as possible, avoid imposing restrictions due to the impact on the economy.
However, three-time MP Abhishek Banerjee has taken a different tack. On 8 January, while conducting an administrative meeting in his Lok Sabha constituency, Diamond Harbour, he said: “I feel the next two months, all religious and political programmes should be put on hold. This is my personal opinion.”
Abhishek also tweeted his thanks to the Calcutta High Court and State Election Commission for postponing the civic polls. “Let us work unitedly to ensure that the positivity rate in Bengal is brought down to less than 3 per cent in the next three weeks,” he tweeted. As of 16 January, West Bengal’s Covid positivity rate stood at 27.73 per cent.
Abhishek’s remarks have polarised the party, with some leaders, like MP Kalyan Banerjee, saying no one should be allowed to speak against the CM’s policies, while others like TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh have come out in support of Mamata’s nephew.
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‘Keep disagreements to yourself’
While health experts and a section of the TMC in West Bengal welcomed Abhishek Banerjee’s view, other leaders were deeply offended.
On 13 January, Serampore MP Kalyan Banerjee told reporters that Mamata’s authority should not be challenged.
“Mamata Banerjee runs the government, and she runs the party as well. People have voted for Mamata. She decides the policies for the state, and she decides the ideologies for the TMC. No one should speak directly or indirectly against it, it goes against Mamata,” Kalyan Banerjee said.
Just hours after this comment, some TMC workers in Bhowanipore were seen burning an effigy of Kalyan Banerjee for criticising Abhishek Banerjee. TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh also spoke out in favour of Abhishek.
“What Abhishek Banerjee said was absolutely normal given the Covid situation. I don’t know what the other MP has said, I don’t even know if he said it after sundown,” Ghosh said at a media conference
“Abhishek is an able soldier of the TMC. After Mamata, if there is any leader who can take criticism and keep surging ahead, that’s Abhishek Banerjee,” Ghosh added.
However, Partha Chatterjee, the West Bengal TMC’s secretary general, who also heads the party’s disciplinary committee, made it clear that party members should keep their disagreements to themselves.
“Statements being made in public is enough to damage the image of the party. I urge leaders to stop making statements on social media and instead speak within the party. If we find anyone still not following this, we will be left with no choice but take strict action,” he said Sunday, addressing a news conference.
Why is Abhishek Banerjee diverging from party line?
According to political analysts, Abhishek Banerjee is not content as being seen as just another cog in the TMC.
Biswanath Chakraborty, political science professor at Rabindra Bharti University, told ThePrint that Abhishek Banerjee is driven by a desire to bolster his image as well as to make an impact on the party.
“Abhishek Banerjee is making national inroads. He is trying to reshape his image as pro-people, pro-governance, and he is trying to uphold that image, even if it comes at the cost of the government,” Chakraborty said.
“His statement is a conscious effort to not only gain more public support by echoing their sentiments, but also to get a grip on the party,” he added.
Arati Jerath, political analyst and senior journalist, told ThePrint that Abhishek is trying to assert himself as a leader in his own right.
“Abhishek Banerjee’s rise has been quite spectacular and fast. He silenced his critics, including some within the party, after the exceptional West Bengal assembly election outcome. Anyone who debuts in politics because of family ties, which is an especially common phenomenon in India, must at the end of the day prove himself on the ground,” she said.
“Abhishek, if you see, has been leading the political battle for the TMC in Tripura and other states, which indicates, he has a bigger role in store,” Jerath added.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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Source: The Print