Mamata Banerjee posed for photographers, gesturing the victory sign, at her press conference on Thursday. Only the barest glimpse of a smile played on her lips, unlike the three men flanking her — considered key in executing the Trinamool Congress chief’s plans for the future.
They were party spokesperson Derek O’Brien, vice-president Mukul Roy and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who many believe, is Trinamool’s face for the future.
During the electoral campaign, Abhishek — Lok Sabha MP from Diamond Harbour — was second only to his aunt. Alongside Roy, he campaigned the most. This was evident from the manner in which the four helicopters, used by the party, were pressed into service. While two were used exclusively by Mamata, Abhishek and Roy used the third. The fourth was reserved for other senior leaders. This, leaders maintained, also showed the subtle hierarchy within the party.
The 28-year-old has had a steady ascent since he was inducted into the party’s state committee in 2014. Ahead of Trinamool’s win in the 2011 state polls, Abhishek was reportedly instrumental in roping in Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia to design the party’s online campaign. He would later go on to take charge of Trinamool’s social media platforms. After taking charge as chief minister, Mamata launched a new organisation — Trinamool Yuva — with Abhishek at its head. This was in spite of the fact that the party already had a youth unit, headed by Suvendu Adhikari. In 2014, Abhishek became an MP.
“Since then, he has been steadily increasing in stature within the party. To say that he is the number two is difficult because Trinamool isn’t a party that has space for any big leader except Mamata. But apart from Mamata, there’s only him and it’s obvious that he is being groomed for the future,” said a senior leader.
Many said Roy’s presence alongside Mamata indicated the CM’s plans for the future. Once considered Mamata’s most trusted lieutenant, Roy returned to the party only in February.
The estrangement, maintained party leaders, had at its source Roy’s deposition before the CBI in the Saradha chit fund scam case. But all this ended in February. Since then, Roy has been working steadily to mend bridges with Mamata.
“It began with the Bengal Global Business Summit in January. They had resumed conversation after a long time and Mukul made it a point to avoid the media. But he worked tireless behind the scenes, bringing in his usual industriousness and organisational capacities to make the event a success.
Soon, he was given more responsibility. No one barring Mamata knows the party like Mukul and she wants him and Abhishek to work together to keep the party under check,” said a close aide of Mamata. When asked about his future role, Roy maintained “all decisions will be taken by the party”.
The other person who sources said is key to Mamata’s future plans is Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien, who had recently landed the party in a soup after purportedly showing a morphed photograph of BJP leader Rajnath Singh.
While Mamata on Thursday told the media that she is a “small person” and doesn’t have plans for the next Lok Sabha polls, O’Brien had previously hinted at a greater role for Trinamool in national politics.
Mamata — in the last few weeks — has been carefully planning the political direction that her party will take, said sources. Cabinet ministers and party leaders could not meet her weeks before the results.
“Her plans are two-fold. One is to strengthen the party — particularly in terms of the damage that has been done by charges of corruption… in this, both Abhishek and Mukul will be key.
Secondly, she also wants to break the Left-Congress’ pockets of influence in North Bengal,” said a TMC leader.