Mamata Banerjee, three term Chief Minister (CM) of West Bengal, India, is an agitprop leader known for her tempestuous nature, which is currently fuelling talks of a fall out with Prashant Kishor (also known as PK), India’s top political strategist.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) sources are currently abuzz with the development but given Banerjee’s tantrums, do not want to go on record. For this exclusive story, I spoke to four Trinamool leaders and several leaders from other political parties. All the leaders spoke freely in return for anonymity.
The foreground of the spat is the three interviews given in quick succession by Kishor to prominent media in India. TMC leaders speak in hushed whispers of “PK trying to build a personality cult, at the expense of Banerjee”. The unwritten iron clad rule in Indian politics is that no one can outshine the leader.
All parties are cults of personality and the TMC is no exception in India — Banerjee is supreme in the party heirarcy followed by her nephew — Abhishek Banerjee.
It appears that PK’s publicity hunt and efforts to grab credit for TMC win in West Bengal polls has annoyed Banerjee.
Sources cite a series of flash points leading to the current cold temperature. Kishor took inordinate credit for veteran Congress leader in Goa, Luizhino Falerio, joining the TMC. Falerio upset Banerjee and the entire TMC top brass when in an interview on September 30, he told an Indian daily: “it is a fact that I never met TMC leaders. I met Prashant Kishor just before I took the decision”. Derek O Brien and Abhishek Banerjee had been camping in Goa and this public endorsement of PK has upset the party.
Similarly when Mukul Sangma, former Meghalaya CM, joined TMC, he said publicly: “TMC main strategist and I share the same objectives for the interest of the state”.
This public endorsement of PK takes away the shine from the TMC’s attempts to grow as a national party.
Burning all bridges
Says a very senior TMC leader, “the top leaders who joined the TMC include Sushmita Deb, Babul Supriyo and the return of the TMC strongman Mukul Roy and his son. Have any of them said a word about PK? These are serious politicians and they know how to function. Getting rootless leaders like Kirti Azad, who is a twice defector from BJP and Congress, is being dressed up a huge achievement. All for the PK publicity blitzkrieg”.
In the bitterly contested Kolkata civic polls results, Banerjee refused to take any advise proffered by PK. Using his usual formula, he wanted Banerjee to deny tickets of at least 50 per cent of the current members. Banerjee, point blank, refused and the TMC repeated faces, allowing some sitting members to run.
Banerjee is aware that Kishor has burnt his bridges with the Congress after nearly joining them. PK has made savage attacks on Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president.
Prior to that Kishor also comprehensively ended any relationship with Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM after a bitter public fallout which saw Kumar expelling Kishor from his party. Kishor hails from Bihar.
When expelling Kishor, Kumar also attacked his “inordinate ambitions” and desire to get publicity. These are the same complaints the TMC has. Before the Bengal elections, Banerjee needed Kishor. Now the tables have turned and Banerjee is fully aware of the change in the balance of power, says a senior TMC leader.
PK — the out man out
Banerjee, guided by Kishor, who clearly has a lot of anger against the Congress, decided to go public with her Prime Ministerial ambitions, which collide with the Congress’s idea of being the pre-eminent opposition party — the fulcrum around which India's opposition converges.
Led by Kishor, Banerjee went too public too fast in her idea of isolating the Congress. It had the opposite reaction. Top leaders like Sharad Pawar, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief, immediately went public on how no viable opposition to the BJP could come sans Congress.
The Sena rubbed it in further saying those trying to isolate the Congress were actually aiding “fascism” and helping the BJP.
Banerjee chose to blame Kishor for the public hurt inflicted on her.
In a move that could be seen as making amends to the Congress, senior TMC leader Derek O Brien tweeted an article written by senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who had earlier been involved in a public spat with TMC’s Mahua Moitra.
Like his boss Banerjee, Kishor wants to make a dizzying debut in politics and turn in to a heavy hitter overnight. As his dealings with the Congress make clear, it is not so easy to become a political heavy weight from a strategist.
Let’s give the last word to a senior Congress leader who told Gulf News, “if in order to repair our relationship with Mamata, a ritual sacrifice has to be made, it will be Kishor”.