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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 19 June 2024

Abhishek wants Babul Supriyo as Trinamul's mayor face

Fate of old guard uncertain as all-India general secretary and Didi's nephew gets tighter control of party 

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 15.11.21, 05:33 PM
From left: Babul Supriyo, Mamata Banerjee & Abhishek Banerjee

From left: Babul Supriyo, Mamata Banerjee & Abhishek Banerjee File Picture

The highrise on Camac Street is gradually overshadowing the single-storeyed structure at Kalighat in Bengal’s politics but to what extent will emerge in the approaching month’s civic polls in Calcutta and Howrah.

Trinamul’s all-India general secretary and de facto Number Two in the party Abhishek Banerjee is said to have thrown his weight behind Babul Supriyo, Trinamul’s prize catch this year from the saffron camp, as the mayoral face for the prestigious Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Abhishek and his team have shortlisted three wards for Supriyo to contest, all in South Calcutta, one of which went to the BJP in 2015.

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While the party is, undoubtedly, at its peak electorally, a crisis of sorts is brewing within the Trinamul as Abhishek Banerjee’s footprints get bigger with each passing day. The only person in the party who is certain about her position is chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Everything else in the party is decided by the twice-elected Diamond Harbour MP. A clear line of demarcation between the old guard and the new leadership is emerging.

Elections to the Calcutta and Howrah civic bodies would be the first litmus test of Abhishek as the party’s all India general secretary, who gets to decide on the nominees for the 144 wards in Calcutta and 66 on the other side of the river Hooghly.

And at this moment Abhishek is in favour of having Supriyo, who joined the Trinamul two months ago, as the first citizen of Calcutta, which has seen the likes of Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy in pre-Independence days.

Decades down the line three mayors from the same Calcutta Municipal Corporation from the same party were held behind bars in connection with a bribery case. The late Subrata Mukherjee, minister Firhad Hakim and nowhere-man Sovan Chatterjee all had adorned the post as Mamata’s choice. Charges of corruption had smeared all three.

Just before the Assembly polls this summer Abhishek was in favour of dropping some of the ministers, especially the tainted ones. It was on Abhishek’s prodding that Mamata loyalists like Sonali Guha were denied a ticket this time and they promptly joined the BJP.

“Abhishek’s approach in selection of candidates is that they should have a clean image. He also wants to put an end to the family-oriented politics of the corporation. Next of kin of a minister or MLA will not automatically get to test their political skills via the corporation,” said a Trinamul source. “Abhishek is also not in favour of MLAs continuing as councillors.”

Political strategy agency I-PAC has submitted a list of two to three candidates from each of the 144 wards to Abhishek, among whom one would be declared candidate once the notification is issued.

In 2015, when the last CMC polls were held, Trinamul had won 123 out of the 144 wards. Four years later, comparative analysis of booth-wise results of the Lok Sabha polls revealed BJP was leading in 50 of the Trinamul-run wards in the CMC, including Mamata’s backyard ward 73. Many feel Mamata deliberately delayed holding civic polls till her electoral position improved in Calcutta and the rest of the state.

Since his induction into the Trinamul, Supriyo has been lying low especially after he resigned as Lok Sabha MP from Asansol. His name was not considered for either inclusion in the state cabinet or the vacant Rajya Sabha seat which went to Goa’s ex-Congressman Luizinho Faleiro.

“It is unlikely that someone of Babul’s stature would be left out of the scheme of things for long. CMC would be the right place to utilise him,” said a senior Trinamul leader.

That the last Mayor and present chairman of board of administrators in the CMC, Firhad Hakim, had fallen out of favour was evident when the urban development portfolio was handed to Chandrima Bhattacharya. Hakim’s voice was clearly not to be heard in civic matters.

“Bobby (Hakim’s nickname) is a councillor and was running the show during the Covid pandemic, where the civic body played a critical role. That is why he was re-appointed as chairman of administrator. His days in the CMC are clearly numbered if Abhishek has his way,” said a Trinamul source.

According to Trinamul insiders, Hakim has placed a request with Mamata to relieve him from his ministerial responsibilities but allow him to remain in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

In the cabinet, Hakim is in charge of transport and housing portfolios.

“Bobby feels unlike the state government the CMC is free from Abhishek. What he does not realise is that it is just a matter of time. CMC is now being run by administrators. Once the councillors return, Abhishek will ensure that he controls the board,” said a Trinamul source.

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