Mamata's 'Political Will': TMC May be Building Army of Next-gen Leaders to Carry Forward its Ideology

Sujit Nath

On May 11, 2018, in an interview with a regional television channel, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee sprung a surprise by declaring that she has prepared a "political will" to take the Trinamool Congress forward in the future.

“There are people who want to alienate me from the masses, but they will not succeed,” she said.

“Considering the threat concern on me, today I am sharing this, that I have already prepared a ‘political will’ specifying who will do what after me. I have set up a team in my party to look after the Trinamool Congress after me to work for the development of Bengal.”

Those words of Mamata, two years ago, didn’t go unnoticed. And now, according to political experts, the TMC’s hunt for young leaders in the state under the banner of ‘Banglar Jubo Shakti’ (Bengal's Youth Power) to create ‘Jubo Joddhas’ (Youth Warriors) is part of Mamata’s plan to strengthen the party with new faces in the coming years.

The ‘Banglar Jubo Shakti’ campaign to create one lakh ‘Jubo Joddhas’ in the state was launched by Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee, and the party says 2,02,144 youths from 399 blocks and from 494 towns had been registered till June 29, 2020.

‘Jubo Joddhas’ is the brainchild of political strategist Prashant Kishor and TMC members feel that this will help the party to fill the political vacuum on who will take the lead in the future due to issues like ageing, health, differences of opinion among the existing party leaders.

Many party founders have been sidelined in the last two decades by the Trinamool. While some strong leaders like Arjun Singh, Saumitra Khan, Nisith Pramanik (all middle-aged) joined the BJP and became MPs, some senior TMC leaders recently spoke out against their party colleagues: like Sovan Chatterjee against Mamata, Sadhan Pandey against mayor Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee against Sundarbans affairs minister Manturam Pakhira over post-Cyclone Amphan management.

Many in the party revealed that it was Mamata’s wish to create a strong young team to take the TMC’s ideology forward across India in the future.

This is probably one of the reasons why, while announcing the list of TMC candidates on March 12, 2019, for all the 42 Lok Sabha seats, she dropped 10 sitting MPs to bring in new faces like actresses Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty. The strategy worked well as both of them won the polls from the Bashirhat and Jadavpur seats, respectively.

“There are few political parties in India which have a dedicated young team. You will find young dedicated cadres in the BJP and in the CPI(M). You will not find this in the Congress because the old guard is not willing to make space for young party workers. In the TMC, the need to re-organise the young force was felt and therefore 'Didi' (as Mamata is popularly known) gave more stress on preparing a young TMC brigade,” said a senior TMC MLA, on condition of anonymity.

“For future politics and carrying the TMC ideology forward, the issue of creating a young force is important for the party. This is not an overnight job. If we start working on this from now, then in the coming years these young cadres will be ready to serve the people. We personally believe that this is a smart move to have another set of young leaders to serve the party in the future. The ‘Jubo Joddhas’ are undoubtedly going to add more power to the TMC brigade.”

On the BJP’s allegations that Mamata will hand over the party’s command to her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the future as the TMC believes in ‘dynasty politics’, he said, “This is not true. If you remember, on May 25, 2019, two days after the Lok Sabha poll results, Didi wanted to resign as chief minister, but party leaders didn’t accept that. She was upset with the results. Then, our party leader Suvendu Adhikari was made in-charge of the Jangalmahal region (Purulia, Bankura, Paschim Medinipur and Jhargram where the BJP did well) by Didi. Earlier, Abhishek Banerjee used to look after those areas. The TMC is the only party where dedicated party workers were rewarded. It’s not a family centric party like the BJP and Congress.

Mamata’s special focus on youngsters became evident once again on January 27, 2020.

While addressing a huge gathering of young Trinamool workers and supporters during a student-youth workshop at Netaji Indoor Stadium, Kolkata, she thanked all the students who had joined the movement against the central government's Citizenship Amendment Act.

“The students and the youth are the future of this country; it is they who would lead. I am happy that the students have taken over the responsibility of the movement. They are the future leaders,” she said.

BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha termed the ‘Jubo Joddha’ move as rubbish and said "TMC ek ghar ka sangathan hai (TMC is a family organisation)".

“Earlier, the youths were attracted towards the TMC, but the charm is no longer there. Now, the youth are coming forward to join the BJP because of its discipline and dedication towards serving the people. Ours is the only party where there is an age cap to contest elections. This is not there in the TMC as old leaders will not allow the young ones to come forward. Everybody knows who will take control of the TMC in the near future and he is Abhishek Banerjee. It’s an open secret now,” he said.

“They have started to create a young brigade but you will see this strategy of the TMC is not going to work in Bengal. TMC ek ghar ka sangathan hai, ek rupiya kamane ka sangthan hai (TMC is a family organisation, it is an organisation to make money). They also started giving money to neighbourhood clubs to rope in youngsters but that attempt failed. Unlike the BJP, there is no concept of a young team in the TMC. Can you show me a single leader in the TMC who has the capability to draw crowds in public rallies? The old leaders were supposed to be the inspiration before the youngsters but if the old leaders failed to prove themselves then how will they attract the youngsters?"

Author and political expert Kapil Thakur said bringing in a new face and grooming replacements is a healthy sign for any political party to carry forward its movement and ideology.

“I think the TMC has also realised that now it’s time to create a ‘B team’ as ageing, death and rift are inevitable. Supply chains of political players should be there for replacement, otherwise who will play for them in the future? But political parties should be very careful in differentiating between those who are willingly joining them by heart and those who are joining them with a certain intention. There is a huge difference between these two. I hear Prashant Kishor trying the same thing in Bihar and now he is applying the same strategy in Bengal. This is a normal strategy to stay in the field for long years. Politics is not like reading a book and moving to the next one. It’s a continuous process and for that you need young people to take over,” he said.

“I think at present they are creating a youth front so that in future some of them, who have leadership qualities, will be accommodated in the main organisation. I won’t be surprised if we see more young and new faces in the TMC in the coming assembly polls in Bengal as candidates. In India nearly 65-66 per cent of the population is below 35. It is unfortunate that India being one of the youngest democracies in the world failed to get enough young parliamentarians to represent it. In the previous Lok Sabha elections, only 12-13 per cent members were under 40. It’s time for the political parties to prepare young lawmakers so that they can talk about the youngsters and their concerns. It's too early, but the trend suggests that the TMC is also going ahead with the same plan.”