View: This Pappu can win saala
Some of us may consider Rahul gandhi be an endearing PLU, with his heart in the right place, but even after seven years he remains a political pappu. It doesn’t matter who laughed at him first – AAP or Asaram or Amit Shah – he just can’t ignore this ridiculous name tag for reasons we are all well aware of.
In Bengal’s electoral battlefield this summer, Bhaipo (Bengali for his brother’s son) was to be the new “pappu” – a buzzword unleashed by saffron specialists to vilify. Mamata banerjeenephew Abhishek. She was their main target. He became the practical attorney.
With an explosive dramaturgy, the double engine of the BJP campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his compadre, Interior Minister Amit Shah, waged a personal, pejorative and provocative campaign to tirelessly label the young man as 33 years of dubious, dishonest and despotic dynasties. With alleged links to the sand mafia, cow smuggling, terrorist politics and extortion (tolabaaji), Abhishek, the flamboyant princel with a soft spot for SUVs and football, has become the metaphor for all that has been rotten with the 10 year reign of Trinamool.
This privileged kid who “took the elevator” instead of the stairs unlike the rest of the infantry was also accused of being the mastermind who nudged mass leaders like Suvendu Adhikari, Sovon Chatterjee and even Mukul. Roy, Mamata’s trusted number 2, of the party. Ironically, it is said, Roy himself had advised his leader in 2011 to float a new Yuva wing under a 20-year-old Abhishek to flatten Adhikari’s ascending graphic, to be devoured by his raptor protege in the following years. .
Shortly after, we learned that Abhishek had “choked” veterans like Dinesh Trivedi with his compelling and insolent interference and even attempted to hijack the senior citizen’s social media passwords!
In the early days of this election season, several party elders also felt that Abhishek, a “well-known MBA graduate”, was unnecessarily “corporatizing” the party’s soul, robbing it of its austere and spontaneous grassroots originality. .
But Mamata Banerjee’s spectacular hat-trick this weekend is proof that the constant taunts and beards directed at Abhishek have simply boomeranged the BJP. Bengal completely rejected its macho Hindutva and its double engine growth that was to inaugurate ashol paribarton. A known beast, in the end, became preferable to an unknown friend, whose performance and governance were increasingly in the spotlight as Covid raised its scathing head in the middle of the campaign.
In fact, BJP’s tirade turned out to be a blessing for Banerjee Junior. The wickedness of the attack on the central government, their endless slander, made him the popular leader he always aspired to be. Braving the whirlwind of the Law Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and other central investigative agencies that even targeted his family, the young MP ended up consolidating his position within the party. It is no longer unsaid. Abhishek Banerjee HAS has become the de facto and de jure deputy.
BOY WHO WILL BE KING
As an MP for Diamond Harbor, Abhishek Banerjee had personally overseen the constituencies of South 24 Parganas. He campaigned tirelessly and focused on stand and cadre management as well as party organization. During the election campaign, he had to fend for himself politically while Mamata refrained from protecting him beyond a certain point. Yet he was rarely dismissive. Primarily problem-based, subtle and sane, sometimes even self-deprecating, Abhishek’s tutored strategy kept him away from further controversy. After Mamata, he was in fact the party’s most visible activist and its second most popular.
Sunday’s results further reinforced that. The TMC swept 29 of 31 seats in South 24 Parganas, where it was believed to perform poorly, following allegations of rampant corruption during post-Amphan relief work. In fact, they improved their tally slightly compared to 2016. Abhishek was also in charge of Jhargram district, where the BJP made a breakthrough in the 2019 elections in Lok Sabha. Two years later it was cleared: TMC won all four, a repeat of the last assembly elections.
If pure arithmetic is the barometer of electoral success, reclaiming lost ground and clinging to its base globally, the flip side of the last national elections – the beating in the districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore, where Abhishek was in charge – looks like a momentary accident. Those who would then have punished Abhishek for mass violence and rigging in the 2018 Panchayat polls when the TMC won nearly 34% of the unopposed seats, seem to have forgotten and forgiven.
It can be argued that mingling with Prashant Kishor and his Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) helped Abhishek control his personal narrative and that of the party. Through several outreach measures both offline and online, Trinamool had succeeded in projecting easier accessibility and a human touch that went hand in hand with the myriad of social programs for the poor and excluded.
To be fair, it sometimes seems too good to be real. Cynical views abound – such as the unemployment policy aimed at pacifying voting banks, or the pre-ballot lens to quell any simmering discontent. You may recall that it was the same nephew, albeit much healthier at the time, who had visited the impoverished tea gardens of North Bengal in the summer of 2106, and had spoken at length about ‘ janata ” (people), ‘khamata’ (power) and ‘mamata’ (compassion, or aunt) to a group of starving workers without hinting at crippling poverty or starvation. It was also just before an election to the Assembly five years ago.
We don’t know if it was Kishor or the Shah-Modi blitz or some combination that accelerated Abhishek’s maturity. Never before has Bengal seen such a high decibel campaign involving so many VVIPs and celebrities. Whatever the reason, for now Abhishek, the star strategist, has managed to convince voters with his selfless image. In this context, his recent statement in a television interview becomes politically very significant. More so, when predictable, there is growing speculation that Mamata will further elevate her nephew in her party, or even crown him as West Bengal’s Deputy Chief Minister as she sets eyes on Raisina Hill in New Delhi.
Abhishek, in this interview, categorically ruled out joining his aunt’s cabinet as minister or as his deputy. He would prefer to focus on strengthening party organization in the districts to fight opposition forces that have besieged the state, he said.
It’s a job half done. Armed with IPAC’s data analysis, Abhishek has already traded most of the seasoned hands of district oversight roles with his ragged youngster chosen from among the cherries. Before the ballot, there were nearly 25 new spokespersons, a 7-member steering committee, a 21-member state coordination committee and two dozen secretaries, with Abhishek as a fulcrum. Mamata’s silence in the face of such a radical reorganization or her symbolic statements about young and old coexisting and happily collaborating seems superficial at best.
All of this will lead to a guess. For now, he has blossomed under the impending presence of his street fighter aunt who is still as fiery and courageous as ever. 2021 is an overwhelming tenure for Mamata Banerjee, not Abhishek. Didi remains the messiah for many, the glue that binds his flock. It is premature to question whether Abhishek alone will be able to maintain the party as a cohesive force.
But he does not leave the battlefield. And more worrying for the BJP, the bhaipo has become difficult to dodge. This pappu can really win, saala.
(Opinions are personal)