Is this the beginning of the Big Split? The question rose to the forefront of Bengal politics on Friday as the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), headed by controversial political and election strategist Prashant Kishore, unfollowed the official Twitter handle of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Neither party has made an official announcement yet, though several Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders have privately admitted that the once healthy relationship between Mamata and Kishore is currently at its lowest point.
More significant still, IPAC continues to follow Mamata’s nephew and TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, whom political opponents have long accused of corruption and nepotism. In February 2021, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team visited Abhishek’s luxurious south Kolkata residence and served notice to his wife for questioning in the ongoing Bengal coal scam investigation. It is widely known in the state’s political circles that Abhishek was instrumental in connecting his aunt with Kishore, and that the latter played a significant role in the TMC’s overwhelming win in the state Assembly elections in 2021.
A few senior TMC leaders who wish to remain anonymous claim that the TMC-IPAC split is now a matter of time. And point out that it is important to note that it is IPAC which has taken the first step in this direction. Also important, political observers say, is the fact that the party high command has asked veteran TMC leader Saugata Ray to refrain from commenting on the IPAC issue following his initial comment to the media that any split with IPAC would adversely affect TMC, and that IPAC was the principal architect of the party’s 2021 Assembly election win.
Earlier this month, there were unconfirmed reports of a rift between Mamata and Kishore, though she sidestepped questions on the matter, saying it had nothing to do with the party’s internal matters. While this statement may be interpreted in a variety of ways, one of them may simply be that the rift is not professional, but personal. Since IPAC’s contract with TMC is valid until 2026, the current development has raised questions in that respect, too.
In a related development, there has been no live broadcast of any of Mamata’s administrative or public meetings on the all-India TMC Facebook page, which IPAC has been managing since 2019, though IPAC has denied handling any of the TMC’s social media accounts. This, despite the fact that Mamata’s own Facebook page has been broadcasting all these events. Similarly, the TMC page did not carry live feed from Abhishek’s recent public meeting in Goa either. Earlier, state minister Chandrima Bhattacharya had alleged that ‘One Person, One Post’ campaign posts (in support of Abhishek) had been posted by IPAC from her social media accounts, without her consent.
Some observers have pointed to the alleged cold war between senior TMC leaders and IPAC since the beginning of November 2021, on the eve of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) elections, when there was widespread confusion regarding the list of TMC candidates. With elections scheduled for four major municipalities – Siliguri, Bidhannagar, Asansol and Chandannagar – on February 12, the cold war has apparently reached its peak. Additionally, mega elections to 108 municipalities across 20 districts are scheduled for February 27. IPAC, however, had made it clear that it had nothing to do with the list of candidates for the KMC polls.
A source close to Kishore has told the media that it is fairly typical of ‘PK’ to break professional ties silently and without fuss so that the media is left largely in the dark about the move until after it has been made. Nonetheless, IPAC still follows the Twitter handle of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose relationship with Kishore has been unequivocally bitter for a while now. Can the PK-Mamata bond have sunk even lower?