By Tirthankar Mitra
Many were surprised in the state though no eyebrows were raised in Trinamool Congress after chief minister and party supremo Mamata Banerjee took charge of Birbhum unit of her party thereby unwittingly revealing an organisational weakness. For after Anubrata Mondal heading the district unit went behind the bars in a cattle smuggling case when ED arrested him, the chief minister had set up a core committee to run the local organization of this red earth district.
The core committee’s performance clearly failed to come up to the chief minister’s expectations. Hence she took up a new responsibility knowing well only she would be able to brush aside inter-party plots harming rural poll prospects of Trinamool.
The announcement of the party supremo taking charge of Birbhum came at an organisational rejig meeting at the chief minister’s Kalighat residence. It was marked by decisions allocating the organisational charges of different districts to senior party leaders. Banerjee heads several key departments in her Cabinet including home and health. So her plate is more than full.
It was during a tour of Birbhum a few months ago, the chief minister met senior party leaders and set up a core committee for running its organisational affairs. Its composition sought to convey a message of factional feuds which arose when Mondal was in charge as a free man.
But the fact remains the Birbhum strongman managed to keep his party rivals in check. Apart from the local MLAs, the recent inclusions in the core committee include Bolpur MP Asit Mal, Birbhum MP Satabdi Roy and Kajal Sheikh, the latter two belonging to Mondal’s rival camp. Being a muscleman, Mondal’s writ ran in the district. He had been a major fund raiser for the party, Trinamool sources stated.
So far the CBI has found 16 rice mills and six petrol pumps on Mondal’s name. He allegedly owns 100 illegal sand mines and holds shares in a medical college cum hospital in the district. Moreover, Mondal enjoyed proximity to the principal power centre of the party, Mamata Banerjee. She had described him to be a “tiger” and further said that he would be given a “hero’s welcome” on his release.
Mondal’s path could not be crossed with impunity in Birbhum. His importance in the party can be gauged from his holding sway in districts like Nadia, Murshidabad and West Burdwan. Mondal’s clout in the party triggered high-handedness. It also sprouted intra-party rivalry.
While Satabdi Roy’s relation with Mondal has been frayed over the years, Sheikh a prominent minority community face of the district has been a vocal rival of the man who despite being behind the bars still continues to head the district unit. Banerjee had instructed the new team to work unitedly for the coming panchayat elections.
If spats between Roy and Mondal did not quite attract public attention, Sheikh made no secret of his dislike for Mondal posting a skeletal lion’s poster in the social media after his arrest. “Looks, power, position and strength do not last forever. Unfortunately many people forget this” read a caption accompanying the cartoon.
Small wonder, no sooner than the core committee got down to work, it found its decisions not being given shape by Mondal’s men who occupy key positions in the organisational structure, sources in the TMC said. Given the political importance of Birbhum, the party supremo was left with little choice but taking up the organisational reins. After all, none in Trinamool can defy Banerjee. She continues to be the most charismatic face of the party and consequently it’s principal vote catcher.
While some sceptics wonder if the chief minister can paper over the cracks in Birbhum party organisation, these leaders are in a minority in the party who dare not voice their doubts. Others feel despite her chief ministerial responsibilities the party rank and file in Birbhum would be enthused before the rural polls.
Banerjee taking up the organisational charges of Birbhum underscores the damage dealt to the morale of Trinamool activists in the district by Mondal’s arrest. An effective alternative to Mondol is the need of the hour and the party supremo had to step in to fill in the void.
The chief minister’s decision speaks volumes of the sorry state of affairs of her party’s organisation. Trinamool continues to depend on individuals instead of team work to win electoral battles. The failure of the core committee with all the important leaders of the district is a pointer to it. Canny politician that she is, Banerjee overlooked it and rushed to fill in the breach. It is a time tested tactic which had seen Trinamool emerge victorious in two successive Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
Despite all the flak that Trinamool Congress is facing over the allegations of rampant corruption indulged in by its leading members, the base level supporters of the party are solely depending on their leader Mamata Banerjee to navigate the party successfully in the coming panchayat elections due in May this year. Earlier also Trinamool successfully combated the campaign over Sharada scam before 2016 assembly poll and Narada scam before 2021 assembly poll. CM is still immensely popular in rural areas including all sections of the population. Political observers feel that despite the dent in the TMC image in the urban areas due to examination scam, Mamata has still the magic touch to lead the party successfully in the panchayat polls. The results after the May polls will show the direction of the political wind before the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. (IPA Service)