Mamata Banerjee on Saturday announced a 20-member national working committee of the Trinamul Congress, placing herself at its top and thereby disbanding the existing panel and sending a clear message that hers was the last word in the party.
Although there was never any doubt who was at the helm of affairs in Trinamul, which Mamata founded in 1998, multiple sources said the reassertion was necessary as Abhishek Banerjee, seen as her heir apparent, had been trying to push some key policy changes and taking decisions that did not go down well with her.
“Our chairperson announced a 20-member national working committee, which will be headed by her, to look after the affairs of the party. We are informing the Election Commission of the decision…. She will be announcing the names of the office-bearers shortly and we will inform the EC accordingly,” said education minister Partha Chatterjee, secretary-general of the party, after a 50-minute meeting of senior leaders at Mamata’s 30B Harish Chatterjee Street residence.
Besides Mamata and Abhishek, the 18 others in the committee include the chief minister’s loyalists like Amit Mitra, Chatterjee, Subrata Bakshi, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Anubrata Mondal, Aroop Biswas, Firhad Hakim and Yashwant Sinha.
Two Trinamul leaders known for supporting Abhishek’s positions — MPs Sougata Roy and Derek O’Brien — did not find a berth in the committee.
No one in Trinamul officially explained the significance of the new committee, but it is almost certain that Mamata, who was unanimously elected party chairperson on February 2, has virtually disbanded for now all the posts in the party, including that of the all-India general secretary that went to Abhishek on June 5, 2021.
A source close to Mamata described the move as a masterstroke at a time Abhishek had conveyed his intention to quit the post of all-India general secretary because of his failure to bring in policy changes like “one person, one post” (Opop) and a retirement age for politicians.
“If all existing posts are disbanded, how can someone resign from a key organisational post?” asked the Trinamul insider, who was aware of the issues that had created a rift between the doting aunt and a nephew whose political career she had cradled and whom she had made the Number 2 in the party.
After the decision on the working committee was announced by Chatterjee – first he had announced 16 names and later Hakim rolled out the full list -- Trinamul circles rippled with only one question: whether Abhishek had lost the position of pre-eminence he held in the party.
While unexpected twists and turn are possible in a party like Trinamul, where all decisions are taken by Mamata, multiple sources said the aunt had now sent a strong message to the nephew for actions she did not approve of.
“One cannot predict the future, but right now she is in no mood to compromise, which means Abhishek has to concede ground.… Didi has given him an option by keeping him in the working committee but his role in it will depend on how he reacts over the next few days,” a source said.
It is believed in the Trinamul top echelons that Abhishek had been very firm, at least till Friday, on his stand on Opop and retirement age and had conveyed his position to Mamata through intermediaries, which infuriated her.
Before the session at Mamata’s residence began on Saturday, the chief minister had a brief interaction with Abhishek, who was the first to reach 30B Harish Chatterjee Street for the meeting, which was also attended by Subrata Bakshi, Hakim, Biswas, Chandrima Bhattacharyya and MP Sudip.
No one could confirm what transpired between the two, but a source present at the meeting that followed the one-to-one said that Abhishek agreed to sign on a letter that others at the meeting had handed over to her stressing hers was the last word in the party.
A source present at the meeting said Mamata spoke for most of the time and her theme was unity in the party and proper coordination between the new leaders and the old guard.
Some of the issues that have driven a wedge between aunt and nephew -- like Opop and the future of Trinamul’s association with poll consultant Prashant Kishor, an Abhishek favourite — did come up briefly during the discussions but the decisions were left to Mamata.
“Didi has taken full charge of the party and made it clear that she would take all the policy decisions…. This has always been the case in our party except for the last few months when Abhishek too began asserting himself. It remains to be seen how he reacts to Didi’s assertion of her supremacy,” a Trinamul insider said.