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On May 11, 2018, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee stunned everyone with her statement that she had prepared a “political will”.

She urged West Bengal’s youth to come forward, join politics and carry her party’s mantle forward.

Almost exactly a year later, while addressing a political rally at Belpahari in Jhargram district on May 5, 2019, the chief minister once again emphasised that the youths were the future of the TMC.

“I was a youth activist and a student leader too,” she underscored.

From her “political will” statement to the elevation of Abhishek Banerjee in the party, experts feel that Mamata Banerjee is certainly making more space for her nephew in the TMC, seeing him as someone who can steer it forward at the national level.

“In other words, it looks like 66-year-old Mamata Banerjee has started the process of passing the TMC’s responsibilities onto Abhishek’s shoulders. This is a normal process and there is nothing unusual. This happened in other states too where regional parties passed the baton to the younger generation, mostly those in the family,” political expert Kapil Thakur said. “More than Mamata Banerjee, it was union home minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who made Abhishek a political star in the assembly polls. It is due to the BJP that Abhishek Banerjee emerged as an influential leader in the TMC camp. His elevation as the all-India general secretary in Trinamool clearly shows that Mamata Banerjee is slowly handing over the party’s responsibilities to Abhishek.”

The results for the tumultuous eight-phase assembly elections announced on May 2 saw the incumbent TMC emerge victorious with a massive 213 of the 292 seats available. The Bharatiya Janata Party that had pulled out all stops to win the key state finished second with 77 seats. Many have apportioned a significant amount of the credit for Trinamool’s victory to Abhishek.

In the context of dynastic politics, Thakur said it’s not that Mamata Banerjee did not make space for other young leaders in the party. “She gave enough space to strong, young leaders like Saumitra Khan and Suvendu Adhikari. But both left the TMC and joined the BJP. Before Abhishek, it was Suvendu Adhikari who was the youth wing president of the party,” he said.

Mamata herself was a fiery youth leader and led many ‘jubo andolan’ (youth movements) in the state. This is the reason why Shahid Diwas (Martyrs’ Day) on July 21 is one of the most important events for ‘Didi’, as Mamata is popularly known in Bengal. It is an annual mass rally organised by the Trinamool Congress in remembrance of 13 people gunned down by the Bengal police in Kolkata during a protest march organised by Mamata, who was then a Youth Congress leader, on July 21, 1993, while demanding voter identity card to be made the sole document necessary for voting.

Mamata’s consistent efforts to woo youngsters came along with her strategy to draft her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the TMC as president of the party’s youth wing in 2013. He has been serving as a Member of Parliament from the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency in South 24 Parganas district since 2014.

His induction in the TMC irked many party leaders including Mukul Roy who openly raised his voice against him and later joined the BJP after differences with Abhishek and Mamata over various issues. Roy returned to Trinamool last week.

However, over the years Abhishek has emerged as one of the most influential leaders in Bengal’s politics when it comes to carrying forward the TMC’s ideology among the youths in the state. Recently, he issued instructions to district leaders not to include anyone above 40 years of age in the youth wing.

In the past nine years, after coming to power in 2011, Mamata, besides working on reforms, has also squeezed out more space for youngsters in the TMC. So Suvendu Adhikari (the party’s key man in mobilising the masses during the Nandigram movement in East Midnapore, now in the BJP), Mahua Moitra (MP), Kargil war veteran (retd) Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (who looked after the TMC social media team, later joined the BJP), Laxmi Ratan Shukla (quit the party later), Pulak Roy, Nusrat Jahan (MP), Mimi Chakraborty (MP), etc, were given prominent positions in the party.

Even on July 23, 2020, Mamata gave more prominence to young faces while forming a seven-member core committee to fine-tune strategies for the 2021 assembly elections in the state.

The BJP, however, argues that Abhishek will not have much of an effect on the national stage. Senior party leader Rahul Sinha said, “As far as his (Abhishek) elevation is concerned, I will not like to comment on it as this is entirely the TMC’s internal matter. All I can say is that Abhishek Banerjee will not be able to make much impact in national politics as the TMC’s all-India general secretary because their national presence is zero.”
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