Trinamool Congress legislator Hazi Niamot Sheikh knows his Hariharpara Assembly constituency in Murshidabad district like the back of his hand, having first won the seat as an independent candidate in 2001.
These days, the veteran leader alleges, it is not he but some “greenhorns” freshly minted out of universities who are trying to call the shot in his home turf, directing even when and in which block a meeting should be convened.
“They call me to order about where and when to hold meetings. This is not acceptable. I asked them to bug off,” Sheikh told The Federal.
Sheikh was referring to the alleged interference of poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) team even in the grassroots functioning of the TMC, much to the chagrin of several legislators and senior leaders.
“Do these freshly graduated rookies with no experience in politics know more than me about the nitty-gritty of my constituency? Their job should be restricted to giving feedback, and not order,” Sheikh said, annoyance ringing in his voice.
“Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC team, mostly comprising youth with no political background, is the root cause of all the trouble in the TMC,” Sheikh said hinting at the growing dissidence in the party.
He was not the only TMC MLA to express grievance over the alleged overbearing nature of the I-PAC team.
“A party cannot be run by outsourcing it to a corporate house,” Mihir Goswami, TMC legislator from the Cooch Behar South constituency said, launching a veiled attack on the I-PAC team.
He was peeved that the block committees in his constituency had been reorganised without consulting him.
Goswami, who has been with the TMC since its inception in 1998, said the party was no longer controlled by chief Mamata Banerjee, whom he addressed as ‘didi,’ meaning elder sister in Bengali.
“This party is no longer the party of my didi. She is inactive and that is why her people are no longer required here. To stay in the party you have to be a ‘yes man’,” Goswami said in a Facebook post amidst speculations that he may join the BJP.
Prashant Kishor was hired by the TMC reportedly at the behest of party’s Diamond Harbour MP and Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee in June last year after the BJP emerged as a strong challenger to the state’s ruling party, wrestling 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. The TMC’s tally dropped from 34 to 22.
The party think tanks deduced that the setback was due to the poor image of the district and grassroots leaders. It roped in Kishor for course correction.
It was reportedly on the advice of Kishor that Banerjee in June warned her party leaders in an open meeting against taking “cut money” from beneficiaries of her government’s welfare schemes.
To “cleanse” the party, the TMC recently reorganised several of its district and block-level committees, sidelining several old guards who are now on a warpath. Most party MLAs and senior leaders were either not consulted at all or their recommendations were not given due weightage. The I-PAC team purportedly called the shot in picking the committee members.
In TMC, it’s only ‘didi’, no one else does ‘dadagiri’, said another TMC leader who did not wish to be identified, explaining why a bunch of senior leaders are miffed with Kishor and his team’s alleged ‘overbearing’ nature.
He said the party was relying too much on the I-PAC team to the extent of giving it leeway to handle even internal conflicts. To buttress his claim, he said when another TMC legislator Jagadish Chandra Barma Basunia of the Sitai constituency in Cooch Behar backed Goswami, it was the I-PAC team which was dispatched to do the peace parleys.
Similarly, it was Kishor and not any senior TMC leader who had first gone to placate heavyweight TMC leader and state’s transport minister Suvendu Adhikari, who has openly revolted against the party leadership.
Adhikari, however, did not meet Kishor. It was only after the senior minister snubbed Kishor, the TMC supremo reportedly deputed a senior MP to hold talks with Adhikari. The MP had two rounds of talks with the disgruntled leader near Kolkata in the past two days.
TMC sources said the I-PAC team would also have the major say in distributing tickets for the next year’s Assembly elections. The team is reportedly preparing a list of probable candidates, giving priorities to “new faces” with “clean image.”
The TMC leadership, however, rubbished the charges that Kishor’s I-PAC team was “interfering” in the party’s internal matters.
The I-PAC was being used as an alibi, TMC MP and senior leader Saugata Roy said alluding to the fact that many leaders had left the party before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when Kishor was not handling the TMC affairs. He said the I-PAC was working as per the directive of the party leadership.