TMC versus TMYC
Her nephew’s rise has sparked a turf war in Mamata Banerjee’s TMC
Abhishek Banerjee’s growing clout in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is worsening the festering tug-of-war between the party’s ‘old guard’, which is firmly loyal to his aunt and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and the youth brigade that unflinchingly backs him.
One of the first casualties of Abhishek’s meteoric rise since the TMC’s phenomenal victory in the 2016 assembly election was Mukul Roy, the party’s second-in-command, who quit in November 2017 citing dynastic politics in the party. Roy’s exit boosted Abhishek’s stature, giving him a big say in choosing electoral candidates and appointments to party posts.
As president of the Trinamool Youth Congress (TMYC), Abhishek has placed his loyalists in important positions at the district level. It has led to scores of violent clashes between Mamata’s followers and TMYC workers. Now, with Abhishek establishing himself as the TMC’s new number two, the ‘old guard’ is understandably demoralised. “The infighting between the parent party and the youth organisation is widely known, but why is Mamata Banerjee not taking action?” asks a TMC leader from Dinhata, requesting anonymity.
The districts worst hit by the internal feud are South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Hooghly and Bardhaman. The clashes are invariably over control of resources—funds allocated for welfare schemes and extortions from brick kiln, real estate and fish pond owners. South 24 Parganas alone witnessed 20 murders in the past one year. A few weeks ago, three people died in a shootout in Joynagar. “It was a fallout of the feud between Biswanath Das (TMYC) and Gour Sarkar (TMC). Even the police know about it,” says Tarun Naskar, a Socialist Unity Centre of India leader and former Joynagar MLA. Cooch Behar in north Bengal, too, has witnessed fatal clashes between the factions.
The escalating war has forced Mamata to issue repeated warnings. “The TMYC should keep in mind that the TMC is the parent party and it is one of its arms,” she said at a north Bengal rally in 2016. Another reminder came during a political event on June 21 last year in Kolkata. Then, at a meeting in South 24 Parganas on December 26, Mamata described the deaths of party workers as “preplanned murders”.
According to a TMC leader from South 24 Parganas, “Seven MLAs from Diamond Harbour have virtually become ineffective. Other people are minding the show.” A minister from the same district claimed TMC legislators have become powerless and the chief minister, too, is losing control over the party’s youth members. According to him, the TMYC called the shots in last year’s panchayat polls, from selection of candidates to appointing pradhans and gram sabhapatis. Some senior TMC leaders fear Abhishek’s writ may prevail in the selection of Lok Sabha candidates as well.
For the record, though, Abhishek showers respect on the ‘old guard’. “I am a foot soldier and my goal is to ensure the ‘old guard’ continues to guide us in our endeavours,” he told a national daily on January 5.
TMC spokesperson Partha Chatterjee refuted talks of a split in the party, saying: “There’s only one party, one flag and one leader, unlike the BJP, which has 10 heads like Ravana.” But “shadowboxing” is how the minister from South 24 Parganas describes the situation: “Mamata is coming down heavily on the Yuva brigade but doing nothing to punish them while Abhishek talks of respecting the veterans without reining in his people.”
BIG STRIDE Abhishek Banerjee passes by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a public function