Mamata Banerjee makes changes in TMC after setback in bypoll
The decisions were taken at a closed-door meeting the TMC chairperson held on Friday with legislators and parliamentarians at her south Kolkata residence to formulate a strategy for the upcoming panchayat and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has made significant changes in the organisational setup of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and pulled up three Muslim leaders for the party’s recent defeat in the Sagardighi assembly bypoll in Murshidabad district, where Muslims comprise 66.28% of the population, the state’s highest.
The decisions were taken at a closed-door meeting the TMC chairperson held on Friday with legislators and parliamentarians at her south Kolkata residence to formulate a strategy for the upcoming panchayat and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Those who attended the meeting said Banerjee blamed organisational weakness and sabotage by a section of leaders for the setback.
“President of the TMC’s minority cell, Haji Nurul Islam, has been made chairman of the cell,” Lok Sabha member Sudip Bandopadhyay said at a media briefing. “Legislator Mosaraf Hossain is the new president.”
“Nobody should conclude that Muslims are not supporting us. Mamata Banerjee is still the only leader acceptable to all communities. A committee is probing the Sagardighi results,” Bandopadhyay added.
While replacing Islam, Banerjee told him that he did not tour Sagardighi the way he was supposed to, said TMC leaders who attended the meeting. They declined to be named.
Bayron Biswas, the Left-backed Congress candidate, secured 47.35 % votes while TMC’s share dropped to 34.94%. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came third with 13.94 % votes.
This is being seen by a section of TMC leaders as a sign of erosion in their minority vote bank because in 2021 the ruling party lost the assembly polls at South 24 Parganas district’s Bhangar constituency where Muslims comprise around 67% of the population. In the district, however, the community represents only 35.57% of the population.
In her first reaction to the Sagardighi results announced on March 2, Banerjee told the media that the BJP, Congress and Left formed an “unholy alliance” to defeat the TMC.
On March 6, she formed a committee of Muslim legislators and ministers to probe the cause of the defeat. The committee is headed by minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury, who is also president of the Jamiat Ulema - e –Hind’s West Bengal unit. Minister of state Sabina Yashmin, a legislator from the adjoining Malda district, which has West Bengal’s second-highest Muslim population at 51.27%, is part of the committee.
“It has been decided at the meeting that Siddiqullah Chowdhury will be in- charge of the TMC’s organizational affairs in Murshidabad and Malda from now on,” Bandopadhyay said on Friday.
This responsibility was earlier entrusted with district observers, but the chief minister abolished the post prior to the 2021 state polls.
Banerjee did not ignore other districts where Muslims comprise sizeable chunk of the population in multiple pockets. Cabinet minister Firhad Hakim will take charge of Howrah, Hooghly and North Dinajpur districts, finance minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said after the meeting.
Banerjee pulled up two more Muslim leaders and alleged that they not only ignored their duties but were in touch with state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a Lok Sabha member from Murshidabad, a TMC leader said on condition of anonymity.
The selection of candidate for the Sagardighi seat was also discussed at the meeting.
In a parallel development, Dibyendu Majumdar, the deputy block land records officer at Sagardighi, and Surajit Chatterjee, the local block development officer, figured among 50 state administrative officers who were transferred on Friday, state officials said.
On March 9, Bholanath Pandey, superintendent of Jangipur police district, which is part of Sagardighi constituency, was transferred with 50 other police officers.
The transfers had nothing to do with politics, TMC spokesperson Jay Prakash Majumdar said. “These are routine transfers,” he said. “Our political rivals should stop giving political interpretations to each and every administrative decision.”
Friday’s decisions were not the first ones the TMC leadership took to reach out Muslim voters. On March 7, the government replaced minister Firhad Hakim, an MLA from Kolkata, with Tapan Dasgupta, a three-time legislator from Hooghly, as chairman of the district’s Furfura Sharif Development Authority.
This was seen by Muslim leaders as a damage control exercise following the January 21 arrest of Indian Secular Front (ISF) leader Nawsad Siddique, West Bengal’s only Muslim opposition MLA, who won the Bhangar seat in 2021.
Siddique is a member of the family which is the custodian of the Furfura Sharif shrine built around the mausoleum of Pir Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It draws millions during the Urs festival and the annual fair dedicated to the Muslim saint. Furfura Sharif also has a mosque built in 1375.
Nawsad Siddique was in police and judicial custody for 39 days after being arrested in Kolkata and charged under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 307 (attempt to murder), for a clash his supporters had with police after they were stopped from holding a rally.
He was granted bail by a court on March 2, the day the Sagardighi poll results were announced.