Trinamool’s Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra and former Indian cricketer and party legislator Laxmi Ratan Shukla have been made in charge of important district units in Bengal as chief minister Mamata Banerjee decided to overhaul the face of the party leadership by putting young faces at the centre of its campaign for the 2021 assembly polls.
Veterans and those facing charges were either shunted out or given higher posts that TMC insiders described as “non-functional” in election-related matters.
Banerjee replaced some key functionaries in north Bengal, where the BJP won all seven Lok Sabha seats in 2019, as well as those in the western districts of Purulia, and Bankura where the BJP’s deep inroads into the region’s sizeable tribal population ensured victory in the four Lok Sabha seats.
ALSO WATCH | ‘Happy that coronavirus is leaving us’: JDU leader slams Prashant Kishor
Of the total votes polled in 2019, the BJP got 40.64%, winning 18 of the state’s 42 seats; while the TMC got 43.69%, winning 22 seats.
In a simultaneous move, the TMC’s youth wing headed by the chief minister’s nephew Abhisek Banerjee was also overhauled and presidents of several district units were replaced in an apparent bid to end infighting between leaders of the party’s general and youth wings in several pockets.
The TMC did away with poll observers and formed a seven-member steering committee for the 2021 assembly polls and a 21-member coordination committee. Significantly, Abhisek Banerjee was inducted in both committees.
The massive changes, TMC leaders said, were made on the basis of a year-long survey made by political strategist Prashant Kishor, who was roped in by the chief minister after the debacle in 2019.
The poll results indicated that a sizeable chunk of young voters supported the BJP. For the ruling party, this is a cause for concern before the crucial assembly polls where alleged nepotism in distribution of cyclone relief funds and mismanagement in the health sector can be raging issues.
“The allegations, though mostly blown out of proportion by the BJP’s campaign machinery, made it necessary for the party to bring in fresh faces, especially those who have a clean image,” a cabinet minister told HT on condition of anonymity.
Significantly, Chhatradhar Mahato – the tribal leader from Jhargram district who headed the Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), an alleged Maoists-backed outfit during the last years of Left rule and released from jail after 10 years – was inducted into the TMC state committee. His life term was commuted by the high court and the state released him in February.
The BJP was not sitting idle. On Thursday, state president Dilip Ghosh and national secretary Rahul Sinha started a series of crucial meetings in Delhi with BJP national general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh, general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Arvind Menon, who is in charge of West Bengal, to assess the party’s organisational strength in each of the state’s 294 assembly seats. BJP national executive member Mukul Roy, who switched over from the TMC in 2017 and masterminded several defections, is also in Delhi and he met Vijayvargiya on Wednesday. More leaders from Bengal will take part in these meetings.
The Bengal BJP leaders will stay in Delhi till Saturday for more meetings, including one with party president JP Nadda. They are also scheduled to meet home minister Amit Shah.
“Around 40 assembly seats were reviewed till Thursday afternoon. The central leadership wants our outreach programme to intensify in every polling booth area, especially in north and western Bengal where the TMC will now try to make a comeback. Also, our focus is on SCs, STs and erstwhile Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, a sizeable section of whom are Dalits,” a senior BJP leader told HT on condition of anonymity.
To counter the BJP, Mamata Banerjee sent out a clear message to party workers and voters that she will not tolerate those who violate discipline, indulge in nepotism or keep personal interest above that of the party, said a TMC minister who did not want to be quoted.
Citing examples, the minister said that cooperation department minister Arup Roy, who was president of the Howrah district unit and was recently accused of shielding corrupt leaders by forest minister Rajib Banerjee, a young face of the TMC, has been replaced.
In another example, Swaroop Biswas, president of the TMC youth wing in south Kolkata and younger brother of PWD minister Aroop Biswas was replaced. The minister too did not find a place in the core committee despite being younger to most members of the cabinet.
“I am happy. Now I have to tour all the 17 assembly segments,” said Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra, who has been made president of the TMC’s Nadia district unit.
“We have to keep working for the people. I will try to fulfill my responsibility,” said former cricketer Shukla, who has been made president of the Howrah district unit.
State BJP leaders called the changes in TMC an eyewash and said it will not help Banerjee remain in power.