TMC unveils new face: Grassroots
The personal probity of Mamata Banerjee has always been Trinamul’s biggest asset whenever any leader of the party has faced corruption charges.
The party’s national general secretary and heir apparent, Abhishek Banerjee, on Saturday added a new dimension to the defence mechanism as he paraded grassroots workers and held aloft their apparent honesty before claiming that such people would be the face of the new Trinamul.
At a rally in Keshpur in West Midnapore, Abhishek called two party activists — Manju Dalobera, a member of the Golar panchayat, and her husband Abhijit, a Trinamul booth committee president — and Hossain Uddin, a party supporter, to the stage and narrated how they had refused to accept money under the Banglar Awas Yojana (Prime Minister Awas Yojana) although their names featured on the list of beneficiaries.
“This couple have been in important party positions for over a decade…. See the condition of their house,” said Abhishek, holding aloft a banner with a picture of a thatched dwelling unit that apparently belongs to the couple.
“They have a son and a daughter…. They chose not to accept Rs 1.3 lakh allotted in the name of Abhijit’s mother as they thought they would have to spend more money to build the house. They chose to save that money for the education of their children,” he added.
This example was preceded by the story of Hossain — introduced as an apolitical person but who later said he was a Trinamul supporter. He too has refused to take the grant for the housing scheme, for which the state government bears 40 per cent of the cost.
Two points seemed to have played on Abhishek’s mind when he brought the trio to the stage — he wanted to highlight that the grassroots Trinamul workers were mostly honest and swat away the BJP’s allegation that local-level Trinamul leaders have amassed huge wealth.
“There is an attempt to give a bad name to Bengal and portray that people here are steeped in corruption…. The BJP has never understood Bengal and always insulted us and that’s why they’ve crashed like this in the state,” he said.
The second reason appeared to be an attempt to send out a message to the Trinamul ranks that he would not tolerate corruption and would select activists with a clean image as party nominees.
“People like them would be the face of the party…. Those who are honest and stand by people. This is the new Trinamul,” Abhsihek said.
“I know some people have begun claiming themselves as party candidates for the panchayat polls…. Let me tell you that no local or block or district-level leaders would give away party tickets. Mamata Banerjee will give tickets to those certified by local people,” said the Diamond Harbour MP.
Need for relook
At the beginning of the rally — which Abhishek described as the “best” he has ever attended in terms of turnout that was estimated between 1 lakh and 2 lakh — he said categorically that he did not come to campaign for any election.
“There is no impending election to choose the Prime Minister or chief minister…. The panchayat polls are also three months away. I promise that I will start the campaign for this district from the same venue,” said Abhishek.
Keshpur, part of the Ghatal Lok Sabha seat, is important for Trinamul as the BJP has a significant presence in at least four Assembly segments. Besides, there is disenchantment among local people about Keshpur MLA Shiuli Saha and Ghatal MP Dev.
Several senior Trinamul leaders feel that a series of big public rallies by Abhishek — at Haldia, Dhupguri, Malbazar, Contai, Ramaghat and Keshpur — in recent months are part of his attempt to launch the campaign well in advance for the rural polls as the ruling party is weak in all these places.
Abhishek’s addresses make it apparent that he is trying to change the rules of the game before launching the campaign.
Take for instance the case of highlighting the personal probity of nameless and faceless grassroots workers at a public rally. The move appeared aimed at taking on the corruption charges — like the alleged cash-for-recruitment scam in the education sector and the perceived irregularities in central schemes — on the ruling party and its leaders.
Unlike in the past — when the Saradha and Narada controversies broke andTrinamul’s defence centred around Mamata, the party seems to have decided to field its ordinary workers in an apparent attempt to convey the message that the time of arrested leaders is over.
“Those leaders who used the party to amass wealth will no longer be in Trinamul….Those who used to misbehave with ordinary people using their clout will not be around,” said Abhishek without naming anyone.
Unlike in the past few meetings, during which he directly went after some elected representatives of the party and asked them to resign, Abhishek didn’t initiate any action against any leader from the Keshpur dais, but there was a warning for all and sundry.
“Invisible eyes are watching you…. I will not spare anyone who embarrasses the party by creating differences in the organisation,” Abhishek said and gave one month to the district leaders to resolve their differences.
Though all election-related strategies, from the campaign pitch to the list of candidates, in Trinamul are vetted by Mamata, the panchayat polls are expected to be monitored by Abhishek.
“He is determined to bring about a change in the party's approach towards organisational affairs and electioneering and he is preparing the ground for that,” said a source.
The Trinamul national general secretary, during Saturday’s rally, repeated his pledge to ensure “peaceful, free and fair” polls. He said he would do everything possible to create a level playing field so that the Opposition parties can file nominations for the rural polls.
“This pledge is based on the party’s assessment that the 2019 debacle in the LokSabha polls was due to the excesses in the 2018 panchayat polls,” said a source.
Multiple Trinamul sources said the party was aiming to get around 50 per cent votes and 70 per cent seats.
While Abhishek has vowed to ensure a free and fair contest, the question remains whether his message would trickle down to the lower ranks, who play a major role in the polling process.
Abhishek has created his own network across the state, which has enabled him to access real-time information from the districts, said a source. The other strength, multiple sources in the party said, is Abhishek’s 24X7 involvement in managing the party internal affairs — he had held fort at his Camac Street office till 11.30 pm even on December 31.