The torch of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has to be carried forward by the next generation and no one can have any objection if Abhishek Banerjee takes on the mantle, West Bengal minister Firhad Hakim told News18.
Hakim is seen as a close aide to chief minister Mamata Banerjee. He hit the headlines recently after he drove the CM on a scooter as part of a protest against fuel price hike. He was also seen with Banerjee when she came out of a Kolkata hospital on a wheelchair earlier this month after undergoing treatment for injuries she suffered in Nandigram.
Hakim’s remarks backing 33-year-old Abhishek, CM Banerjee’s nephew, comes at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched a scathing criticism of the TMC over what it calls “dynasty politics”. Abhishek is the main campaigner for the ruling party, besides the 66-year-old CM, and is seen as her successor. A member of the Lok Sabha, he is also the president of the TMC’s youth wing.
“I don’t think it is dynasty (politics)…young leaders will come forward to handle the youth wing. And after Suvedu Adhikari (who has defected to the BJP), Abhishek was there (in line). The next generation has to come (forward). I’m around the same age as Mamata Banerjee. The torch has to be carried; someone will emerge from the next generation…if Abhishek emerges, what objection does anyone have?” Hakim, 62, asked.
Adhikari has launched a tirade against Abhishek and the TMC since he joined the BJP in December. Abhishek’s rise in the party is seen as the reason behind his decision to jump ship.
Hakim said Abhishek’s family has been associated with the CM for long. “He (Abhishek) was there with Mamata Banerjee in Delhi when he was studying MBA. We did not have any big party office or anything. So their (Abhishek’s) house was our party office. His family is engaged in all the (political) affairs of Mamata Banerjee from her youth; her rise is their rise and her fall is their fall,” Hakim said.
Adhikari has been targeting Hakim — he has not named him — saying there is a ‘mini-Pakistan mantri’ in Banerjee’s cabinet. It is a reference to a purported comment by Hakim in 2016 to some visiting Pakistan journalists about Kolkata’s Kidderpore area, which has a large Muslim population.
“At that time, Suvendu Adhikari protested against this fake propaganda against me…Now he mentions a mini-Pakistan mantri without naming me,” Hakim said.
Hakim, the first Muslim mayor of Kolkata who will contest the Kolkata Port seat in the upcoming state elections, also predicted a comfortable majority for Banerjee, saying people “love her”. “As an individual leader, there is no comparison between Mamata and others,” he said.
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “creating a hype” for the BJP, but “that will not translate in votes”. He added that Banerjee has had a long history of struggle for the people, even “beyond Nandigram and Singur, and her image of being Bengal’s daughter”, referring to the land agitations that helped her end the 34-year Left rule in 2011.
He also hit out at the BJP over the Nandigram episode in which Banerjee suffered injuries. While the CM alleged a deliberate attack, the BJP called it an accident and said Banerjee was using the incident to gain sympathy. It said the CM suffered the injuries after her car door closed on her.
“She has…shown it (the injury). SSKM is a government hospital (in Kolkata) where so many doctors and nurses did her treatment. The BJP is out of its mind to level such charges that she is doing a drama. There was a push at her…I have seen that car. Whether the BJP is behind it or not, the CID will probe it. We are not making a claim on that,” Hakim said.
The state’s Criminal Investigation Department, or CID, is investigating the matter.
Hakim, or Bobby Da (as his supporters call him), also said Muslim votes will not be fragmented in the elections despite the presence of the Indian Secular Front (ISF), and stressed that the TMC was a secular party.
Hakim’s son-in-law recently quit the TMC after not being considered for a ticket. “My son-in-law’s case is different. He came into politics immediately after the marriage without his family having any history of politics. I cannot allow an unethical thing by recommending his name,” Hakim said.