Over the next two years, Mamata Banerjee aspires to play a much bigger role in national politics, in view of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, back in Bengal, most of her closest aides in the Trinamool Congress are under the scrutiny of central investigating agencies. Banerjee is therefore consciously pitching Abhishek Banerjee, her nephew, as the new face of the party in Bengal.
While she has nowhere hinted this outside — always maintaining that her nephew, an MP from the Diamond Harbour constituency, is a young party member on the same footing as some of the other MPs from the party, sources say that Banerjee wants 29-year-old Abhishek to play an important role in the upcoming panchayat elections in the state. He currently heads the party's youth wing nationally.
In the first two weeks of April, Abhishek has addressed huge gatherings at two public meetings in Diamond Harbour and Barasat, in southern and northern fringes of Kolkata respectively. Party insiders say that at this point of time, no one else has been directed by Banerjee to address public meetings. Abhishek had met with an accident in October 2016 on NH-2 when he was returning to Kolkata after attending a party programme in Murshidabad district. He had to undergo an eye surgery and remained out of action for several months. So while these two meetings are being seen by some as a "comeback" of sorts, there is more to it than what meets the eye.
Party insiders say that Banerjee is now prepared to face the reality that some of her closest aides — Kolkata Mayor Sovon Chatterjee, Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim — and some others in her party such as Subhendu Adhikary, Subrata Mukherjee, and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, may be called by the central investigating agencies — Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) — for interrogation in various cases. Some of these Trinamool leaders even face arrest. Mukul Roy, who was at one point of time second-in-command in the Trinamool Congress, no longer plays a significant role.
Abhishek on the other hand, has always been encouraged and groomed by Banerjee to be a mass leader who can connect with the people. A leader who can eventually step into her shoes.
Subrata Bakshi, the Trinamool Congress' All-India General Secretary, who looks after important party matters, maintains a low profile. Abhishek on the other hand, has always been encouraged and groomed by Banerjee to be a mass leader who can connect with the people. A leader who can eventually step into her shoes. She is also extremely affectionate towards Abhishek, her elder brother's son. If Banerjee devotes more time in national politics in the coming days — as she sure plans to — then Abhishek is the one who will be playing the most important role as the face of the party in West Bengal other than her.
Sources say that the increased security in his convoy and the additional scrutiny on his programmes is not only the result of his accident, but also an indication of his growing importance in the party.
That Abhishek's importance in the party has increased is also evident from the fact that he has recently been offered Z-plus security. His public meetings are now monitored by the state intelligence branch, with the access of journalists and political leaders to him thoroughly scrutinised by the state police. This is the first time a leader from the ruling party — who is not part of the state government — is being treated with such importance. Sources say that the increased security in his convoy and the additional scrutiny on his programmes is not only the result of his accident, but also an indication of his growing importance in the party.
Banerjee has already started preparing for the panchayat polls, scheduled in the summer of 2018, which will be a very important test for the ruling party in Bengal to gauge the level of their support base. She has already started touring the districts to ensure the state government's development work at the grassroots is well on track. In this, she wants Abhishek to look at the affairs from the Trinamool Congress' end – mobilising party leaders, to ensure the leaders at the grassroots have delivered, and to report if important work remains undone.
The Trinamool Congress' internal meeting to select its key leaders — a selection system that takes place after every five years — is scheduled in the last week of April. Sources say that Abhishek is likely to be elevated from a leader of the party's youth wing to an important position in the main party in this meeting.
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