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Trinamool Congress, a baptism by youth

11 June, 2021 17:25:38
Trinamool Congress, a baptism by youth

With the BJP being confined to less than 1o0 seats in the recent Assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee’s stock has risen in the eyes of the nation, particularly among democratic-minded citizens. As we all know, nature abhors a vacuum. The more inadequate the Congress proves in the sphere of opposition politics, the more a need is felt for a party that can front an opposition alliance at the national level. And its decimation of Modi-Shah has immeasurably brightened Trinamool’s image nationwide.

We have some way to go before the Lok Sabha polls, but the Uttar Pradesh elections are coming up next year, and will prove no small headache for Modi-Shah. The blunt manner in which UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has turned down Narendra Modi’s proposal to instal a retired Gujarat cadre IAS officer as the state’s deputy chief minister proves that in the eighth year of his prime ministership, the aura of ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’ has waned considerably. 

Looming on the horizon are the 29th annual Martyrs’ Day celebrations of the Trinamool Congress, on July 21. Whether the celebrations will be held at Brigade Parade Ground as they are every year, or whether they will go virtual, or whether there will be a relatively small gathering at Netaji Indoor Stadium, will depend on how efficiently a virus measuring 1/10,000 the size of a full stop can be combated in the coming one month, with our ‘do gaz ki doori’, masks, and sanitisers. However, if conditions permit even a decent sized gathering, then it can be said that it will probably signal the start of Trinamool’s march to Delhi.

The base was laid on June 5, when Abhishek Banerjee was raised to the party’s highest organisational level, as 61-year-old veteran Subrata Bakshi vacated the post of all-India general secretary on the ‘one man one post’ principal, to be replaced by the 34-year-old Abhishek, at the instance of Mamata herself. This is a step of rare boldness in the annals of Bengal politics. On the question of state-level supremos of national parties, whether it be Congress or CPI (M), the balance has always tilted in favour of age and experience, significant examples being Pramod Dasgupta, Anil Biswas, Ghani Khan Chaudhury, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, and Pranab Mukherjee, all of whom were over 50 when they became heads of their state units. The two exceptions remain Atulya Ghosh, who assumed control of the Pradesh Congress in 1948 when he was 44, and Jyoti Basu, who became secretary of the CPI state committee in 1953, a year short of his 40th birthday. 

Narendra Modi-Amit Shah had made the 32-year-old Abhishek the prime target of their attacks in 2019, which assumed tsunami-like proportions before the 2021 Vidhan Sabha polls. Notwithstanding the BJP’s resounding defeat, the constant jibes against him from the country’s two most important men have willy-nilly created a national identity for Abhishek. For most Indians, TMC had become synonymous with Mamata, but the name Abhishek Banerjee has now penetrated the national consciousness. 

 

Sonia Gandhi is unwell, and has been for a while. Speculation about her resignation from the UPA chairperson’s post has grown more insistent. Should that happen, Mamata is the most suitable replacement at the moment, and it does not seem as though many opposition leaders will object, either. 

There is yet another possibility. That opposition parties other than the Congress form an alliance before 2024. In which case, the job of conducting negotiations with non-Congress, non-BJP leaders will be given to the young national general secretary. So it would be fair to say that the future holds a stiff challenge for Abhishek.

One other responsibility has also been entrusted to him. At a recent press conference, he spoke about creating a presence for the party outside Bengal. The CPI (M) had announced a similar intent at their Salkia plenum in 1978, but couldn't progress beyond three states. The Aam Aadmi Party may come to power in Punjab after 2022, and perhaps has even managed to create a toehold in Gujarat, but nothing more than that. Post-2011, Trinamool made a few tentative inroads into the northeast, but couldn't drive home its advantage. So Abhishek may find that while the task is not impossible, it is extremely challenging.

To return to our discussion, on the question of youth, Sayani Ghosh is another name that has come up. At 28, she has been placed in the same position that once upon a time facilitated Mamata's meteoric rise through the Congress - the president of the youth wing. Call this a political experiment if you want, but the fact that two such important organisational positions have gone to two young people certainly indicates a trial by youth.

At the national level, the BJP’s rise to power in 2014 also heralded the rise of several promising young leaders, the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Jignesh Mewani, Safura Zargar, Hardik Patel, and Sehla Rashid. Bengal had not been part of the trend thus far. But the Assembly elections this year saw the CPI (M)  in particular field the likes of Aishe Ghosh, Dipsita Dhar, Srijan Bhattacharya, Pratikur Rahman, and Meenakshi Mukhopadhyay. They may have failed to win a single seat, but look set to continue in politics. From that perspective, this signals a debut, as it were, for youth in the politics of Bengal. In the coming decade, these could be the leaders who ring in far-reaching changes in the political arena. Clearly, they are answering the demand of the times.

India has already seen what young leaders like Tejaswi Yadav and Jaganmohan Reddy can do. While post-1977, when the Congress was defeated in Bengal, the state has not seen the rise of any significant young leader from the party, with the exception of Mamata herself. Likewise, the CPI (M) had, once upon a time, reaped rich dividends from such young leaders as Pramod Dasgupta, Biman Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Subhas Chakraborty, Anil Biswas, and their peers. The subsequent crisis of young blood in the party is one that it is clearly trying to emerge from. In that context, the importance that Trinamool Congress is now according to youth appears to indicate foresight. The result is for time to show.

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