Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya: How Mamata Banerjee's TMC is facing internal rifts and revolt amid corruption row


While the Bharatiya Janata Party is reclaiming its space in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is facing growing internal rifts in the states like Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya. After the arrest of TMC strongman Anubrata Mondal and Banerjee extending her support towards him, TMC MLAs have openly slammed the party supremo. Moreover, across Kolkata, many posters have come up claiming "New TMC" will be formed under Mamata's nephew Abhishek Banerjee. Similarly, in Tripura, several leaders have quit the party and the buzz that more than three TMC MLAs want to join BJP in Meghalaya is also growing louder.

According to the TMC insiders, the key issue right now in front of the party is taking control over the situation in Bengal and also strengthening the organisation in the states like Tripura and Meghalaya. In the past two months, the TMC has faced major setbacks in Bengal. The enforcement directorate arrested and suspended Bengal cabinet minister and secretary general of TMC Partha Chatterjee in the alleged School Service Commission Recruitment Scam. The central agency has also arrested Arpita Mukherjee, an alleged close aide of Chatterjee and recovered over 50 crores of cash from her home. The ED claimed that this cash was connected to the SSC scam. Similarly, this month the CBI arrested TMC Birbhum district president and strongman Anubrata Mondal over an alleged cow smuggling scam.

A senior TMC functionary from Bengal, who did not wish to be named, said, “This is a tough time for the party. Mamata Banerjee has faced the worst situations in her life and appeared victorious. This time also she will take control of the situation. There is no doubt that our first focus is Bengal because it is our base. There are some issues going on in Tripura and Meghalaya and the party leadership will take up those issues and sort them out soon.”

Lack of vision and strategy

Mamata Banerjee is truly a firebrand leader when it comes to street fighting. She single-handedly brought down the 35-year rule of the left front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). After coming to power, Banerjee's politics changed drastically over the years. In the last assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee got a historic victory. However, only electoral performance does not depend on a good strategy or vision of the party. After the historic victory, Mamata Banerjee decided to jump into the elections in Goa and lost miserably. Her party used similar tactics in Tripura, and the results were disastrous. There is a lack of vision and strategy within the TMC. While Mamata Banerjee is attempting to position herself as the primary opposition force to the BJP, the party's lack of strategy is hurting it, as there is a growing sense of disenchantment among the leadership across the states, including Bengal.

A clear example of the lack of strategy was visible during the president and vice president elections. Mamata Banerjee decided to lead the opposition alliance in the presidential elections and her party agreed to make former BJP leader and cabinet minister Yashwant Sinha a presidential candidate, but Banerjee herself made public statements that she would have preferred to support Draupadi Murmu’s candidature if known earlier. The party also did not allow Sinha to campaign in Bengal. Similarly, in a bizarre move, TMC decided to abstain from the vice presidential elections.

When Banerjee rose to power, her strategist was Mukul Roy. He used to manage the party in Bengal and across other states. Roy shifted to BJP before the 2019 general elections and then after the 2021 assembly elections returned to the TMC. But he has lost credibility and the trust of the party leaders. After Roy left the party, TMC hired IPAC and Prashant Kishor to strategise the 2021 Bengal assembly elections. But after the victory, Kishore left IPAC. This vacuum is causing havoc to the party.

A senior TMC MP on the condition of anonymity said, "Mamata Banerjee is our only political strategist. But there is no doubt that Mukul Roy was crucial behind the curtain brain of the party. Now Abhishek is working relentlessly but no one becomes a political strategist overnight. He has the potential but it will take time. The TMC of 2011 and 2022 are different. Responsibilities have increased and our opponents have changed. And we are changing our strategies accordingly."

Effect of having two power centres

Within the TMC, there are now two power centers: Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee's. Interactions with several TMC insiders and leaders, have given the sense that both the leaders had differences of opinion regarding what the party should look like.

While Abhishek Banerjee believes that the TMC should be re-built with new age and leaders with a clean past, Mamata Banerjee is still stuck with her close lieutenants. A senior leader of the party explained, "Mamata Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee are leading the party. If there are differences of opinion, that shows that the party has its democracy intact. Abhishek Banerjee is a new-age leader with a modern outlook, and he has been giving the party not only strength but also new strategies. For example, TMC is doing a survey to identify the feedback of people regarding the sitting MPs and MLAs. This is a new age technique and Abhishek is leading this."

A section of TMC insiders also believes that recently, after the suspension of Partha Chatterjee, when Mamata Banerjee made changes in the cabinet, she gave space to people close to Abhishek Banerjee. However, according to TMC sources, this difference in power centres is hampering the grassroots organisation. Party sources also said that Abhishek was of the opinion that Anubrata Mondal should be suspended after his arrest by the CBI as well, but Mamata Banerjee did not agree. A senior TMC leader who looks after a crucial district of Bengal on the condition of anonymity said, "At times we see that leaders close to Mamata Banerjee do not listen to the leaders who are known to be close to Abhishek Banerjee."

Environment Of distrust among leadership

There is a growing sense of distrust within the supporters and the leaders of the TMC across Bengal and also in the states like Tripura and Meghalaya. In Tripura the party completely failed to make a base within the tribals and even within the Bengali population. The key leaders who joined the party like Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Shah crossed over to the BJP.

According to the leaders associated with the Tripura affairs of the TMC, the party could not build a grassroots organisation in the state because of poor leadership selection. A Tripura TMC leader, on the condition of anonymity, said, "Abhishek Banerjee came to Tripura and appointed Rajiv Banerjee as the incharge of the state. This Rajiv Banerjee left the TMC just before the 2021 assembly elections to join the BJP and returned after the saffron party lost. How can anyone in the organisation trust such a person?"

According to the Tripura TMC leaders, the booth-level organisation work has now completely stopped because there are no leaders.

The Meghalaya TMC is also facing similar issues. In an overnight coup, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress became the key opposition party in Meghalaya. Last year, around 21 Congress MLAs left the party and joined the TMC, led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma. According to a section of party leaders in Meghalaya, the TMC is not addressing the issues of the state. After a lot of negotiations, the TMC MPs during the Monsoon Session of Parliament took up some issues in Meghalaya, but that is all. According to the sources, despite several requests from Sangma Mamata Banerjee, she did not visit the state.

According to reports, several TMC MLAs are in touch with the BJP and they are willing to join the party soon. A senior TMC leader from the state who did not want to be identified said, "A major section of the citizens still see TMC as a Bengali party. We think that the leadership needs a different approach in Meghalaya, which is not happening, and that is why there is discontent within some sections of the party cadres and leadership."

Significantly, the TMC is facing similar troubles in Bengal too. Along with distrust, there is also confusion within the supporters of the TMC. They are still unable to comprehend why Mamata Banerjee supported Anubrata Mondal, who is notorious for his infuriating speeches and intimidation techniques, but showed cold shoulders to Partha Chatterjee.

Lack of grassroots leadership and dependency on IPAC beyond Bengal

The Trinamool Congress leader associated with the development of Tripura and Meghalaya noted that in the states the party is overly dependent on IPAC. Before the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee hired IPAC and Prashant Kishor. After the victory in the election, this contract was extended till 2024, but Prashant Kishor left the organisation and started his own outfit in Bihar.

According to the TMC leaders, the party has sent the IPAC members to these states but is neither giving them any back-up support nor following up on their observations from the ground. According to the TMC sources, the party is repeating the same mistake it made in Goa. Before the Assembly elections in Goa, the party created a lot of hype with the help of this entire management organisation, but it did not focus on building a ground-level organization.

A senior TMC leader who did not want to be named said, "There is no alternative to making grassroots connections in politics. Electoral victory cannot happen without organisational strength. Right now we are busy with Bengal. That is why the work in Tripura and Meghalaya is going slow."

The author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Kolkata and a former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre. He tweets as @sayantan_gh. Views expressed are entirely personal.


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