Mamata Banerjee used two decisions — a minor change in the composition of the Trinamul Congress’s state committee and a significant reshuffle in the state cabinet — on Tuesday to send a clear signal that she was the last word both in the party and the state administration.
Not that there were much doubts about the hierarchy in Trinamul or Nabanna, but multiple sources in the ruling party said the chief minister had reasons to make little change in the state committee and scale up the importance of Calcutta mayor Firhad Hakim in the cabinet.
Hakim has been given charge of housing, urban development and municipal affairs over and above transport.
Chandrima Bhattacharyya has been handed full charge of the finance department, along with her existing responsibilities such as health, land and land reforms and refugee relief and rehabilitation.
The decisions to leave the state committee largely intact and widen the reach of Hakim are being seen as a fresh message to Abhishek Banerjee, Trinamul all-India general secretary and Mamata’s nephew, as well as a test of how the young MP will react.
The unstated message came against the backdrop of the recent developments in Trinamul, which saw twists and turns like Abhishek offering to quit the party post and Mamata making no apparent efforts to dissuade him.
In Trinamul inner circles, it is an open secret that Abhishek — under the influence of poll consultant Prashant Kishor — has been a votary of sweeping changes in the organisation. He had also been advocating a one-man-one-post policy and made his displeasure with Hakim’s appointment as mayor — despite his position in the cabinet — obvious in recent months.
As Abhishek’s wishlist was directly in conflict with Mamata’s policy of striking a balance between her loyalist old guard and inducting the new generation backed by Abhishek gradually, confusion had prevailed in Trinamul for a few months.
Mamata gave the first hint of her decision to swat away the Abhishek line by dissolving the party’s national office-bearers’ committee on February 12 and rolling out a new committee — after six days — with an overwhelming presence of the old guard, about whom her political heir-apparent had reservations.
Although she retained Abhishek as the party’s all-India general secretary, the perception is that his wings have been clipped.
On Tuesday, she sent the second clear message — doing the opposite of what Abhishek had been pitching for — and put the ball in her nephew’s court.
The absence of any major changes in the state committee is unlikely to go down well with Abhishek, but the bigger challenge for him will be to digest the rise and rise of Hakim, who has undoubtedly become the most important minister in the cabinet after Mamata.
A veteran in Trinamul politics and probably aware of the mercurial nature of political fortunes, Hakim didn’t show any exuberance after his elevation.
“I am blessed that Didi has reposed her faith in me,” the mayor said.
Abhishek, however, continues to be reticent. The Trinamul all-India general secretary, who left for Goa on Tuesday, has been maintaining silence for some time as he hasn’t made a single political post on Twitter since January 21.
Several Trinamul insiders said they had noted the dip in the visibility of Abhishek in the past 45 days or so, a period that coincided with the downscaling of the role of Kishor’s consulting firm I-PAC, which had played an important role for Trinamul in the run-up to the Assembly polls in Bengal.
Formally, the association of I-PAC with Trinamul ended last month amid murmurs that the chief minister did not like the manner in which the poll consultant was taking the lion’s share of the credit for the sweep in the Assembly polls. Several sources said Mamata had also not taken kindly to Team Kishor’s relentless campaign projecting Abhishek as a “messiah-like figure”.
After a brief hiatus in Trinamul activities, Kishor was seen again on the dais on Tuesday. He, however, maintained a low profile and left the dais with Abhishek and Derek O’Brien immediately after Mamata’s address ended.
The story, however, doesn’t end with Abhishek’s silent exit from the dais on Tuesday. Several Trinamul insiders believe that the young MP, along with Kishor, had incorporated a structured approach in the party, which Mamata also appreciated to a great extent.
The problem cropped up, multiple sources said, as Abhishek was probably trying to bring in sweeping changes and went beyond the mandate, which didn’t fit with Mamata’s scheme of things though she always wanted to hand over the baton to him.
Now, Abhishek has been offered a chance to show whether he can align with Mamata’s brand of politics.