West Bengal: Why Mamata Banerjee Ditched Minister Partha Chatterjee, But Defends Party Strongman Anubrata Mandal

Explained: Why Mamata Banerjee Ditched Minister Partha Chatterjee, But Defends Party Strongman Anubrata Mandal

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Aug 19, 2022 05:56 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: Why Mamata Banerjee Ditched Minister Partha Chatterjee, But Defends Party Strongman Anubrata MandalWhy Mamata ditched Partha Chatterjee, but defends Anubrata Mandal
  • While Mamata Banerjee has no qualms in dumping Chatterjee by removing him from the cabinet and all party posts, she has defended Mandal.

    Chatterjee was arrested by ED for his alleged involvement in the teachers’ recruitment scam and Mandal by CBI for his alleged involvement in a cattle smuggling racket.

Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee has stood out for her divergent stands towards two senior party colleagues: Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mandal.

Chatterjee, her close aide and a senior ministerial colleague, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last month for his alleged involvement in the teachers’ recruitment scam.

Mandal, another close aide of the Trinamool chief and her party strongman, was arrested by the CBI last week for his alleged involvement in a cattle smuggling racket.

But while both were arrested for their alleged involvement in scams and rackets and for amassing huge wealth, Banerjee has taken contradictory positions on the two.

While she has no qualms in dumping Chatterjee by removing him from the cabinet and all party posts, she has defended Mandal.

To drive home the point and underline her disparate stand on the two Trinamool leaders, Banerjee mounted a strong defence of Mandal at a public meeting she addressed at Behala (in southwest Kolkata) which had been Chatterjee’s turf.

Mamata Banerjee didn’t utter a word on Chatterjee’s arrest and his ongoing incarceration, but she went out of her way to express her support, and even fondness, for Mandal.

Questioning Mandal’s arrest by the CBI, she said that Mandal has been heartbroken after losing his wife, and is also suffering from many ailments.

“What wrong has he done?” asked Banerjee, and went on to allege that her party strongman has been unfairly targeted by central investigation and prosecution agencies.

So why has Banerjee taken such a divergent stand on two of her senior party leaders? The answer: solely for reasons of realpolitik. Here’s explaining this divergent stand:

Defending Chatterjee became untenable

Immediately after ED arrested Chatterjee, the agency recovered huge sums of cash and valuables from the residences of his close associate Arpita Mukherjee.

The Trinamool, and Mamata Banerjee who takes such pride in her ‘clean image’, were shamed by the images of those seizures played out on television screens.

There was thus no room to defend Chatterjee. More so when it became apparent that the Chatterjee-Mukherjee duo had amassed huge properties and invested crores in shell and fake companies.

Aspersions on Partha Chatterjee’s moral character

Chatterjee’s intimate association with actor Mukherjee did not go down well with the general public.

Images (and videos) of Chatterjee and the actor at various platforms and events and acting as two people in love with each other became the object of memes, mirth and criticism.

Chatterjee’s alleged corruption directly affected young job aspirants

Chatterjee’s alleged involvement in the teachers’ recruitment scam and in the widespread cash-for-jobs (in all posts in educational institutions) racket affected a huge number of young men and women.

Lakhs of deserving were deprived of jobs, including those of teachers, and many had launched agitations.

All this had started affecting the Trinamool’s image and tarnishing Banerjee’s reputation.

Distancing from Chatterjee was necessary to protect leadership

As has been elaborated here, distancing the party from Partha Chatterjee and casting him as an aberration became necessary to save the party’s top leadership.

It was widely feared that Chatterjee, under pressure from his interrogators, would disclose the names of all those in the party who benefitted from the scam and rackets that he allegedly presided over.

No one believes that Chatterjee was the sole beneficiary of the cash-for-job racket and others in the party would also have benefited. Any disclosures made by him would ensnare the party’s top leadership.

That’s why Banerjee and her party not only distanced themselves from Chatterjee, but also covertly encouraged a media campaign that cast him in a negative light as an immoral and corrupt philanderer.

But Anubrata Mandal is a different cup of tea. Here’s why:

Mandal is a strongman who has a wide following among party cadres

Even though Mandal is just the president of the Birbhum district unit of the Trinamool, his writ and influence ran beyond the geographical confines of Birbhum.

He enjoys the image of a strongman who bends the administration and police to his will and makes them follow his diktats.

He is also a feared man who doesn’t hesitate to use illegal and extra-legal means to punish dissent and snuff out opposition.

Under Mandal, the opposition faced horrific attacks in Birbhum as well as Purba and Paschim Medinipur and Bankura.

And the template he set--of setting Trinamool musclemen on Opposition activists and supporters to strike fear among them and beat them into submission--was replicated in most parts of Bengal, especially south Bengal.

This has made Mandal a cult figure of sorts among Trinamool functionaries cutting across all strata and the party supporters.

He was the one who popularised the Khela Hobe slogan (read this and this) and he is credited with making the Birbhum-Bardhaman-Bankura belt a Trinamool fortress by snuffing out all opposition.

Abandoning Mandal would have demoralised party cadres

Had Banerjee distanced herself from Mandal, her cadres and supporters would have been demoralised.

Her standing in their eyes--as a tough leader who is always ready for the rough and tumble of battle--would have gone down in their eyes because of her ‘inability’ and unwillingness to stand beside a colleague in distress.

That would have affected the electoral performance of the Trinamool--which often uses strong-arm tactics to scare away opposition--in south Bengal. Mamata can ill-afford that, especially with the rural polls coming up early next year.

Mandal’s alleged corruption did not affect the common man

Mandal’s alleged involvement in the cattle-smuggling racket, as well as the illegal coal, sand and stone mining scams, has not really affected the common man.

Also, the CBI which raided his residence did not recover large mounds of cash and valuables.

Though huge assets in the form of bank deposits, land deeds and ownership of other properties have been recovered from his residence and that of his close aides, these recoveries did not have the same effect as those from Mukherjee’s residences.

Thus, defending Mandal has been easier for Banerjee and her party.

Mandal knows too many secrets and spilling the beans would be disastrous for the Trinamool top leadership

Mandal has been very close to Banerjee and is privy to a lot of secrets that the Trinamool will not want to be exposed.

Like in the case of Chatterjee, no one believes that Mandal kept all the astronomical sums of money that he made from the various scams and extortion rackets to himself.

Like Chatterjee, Mandal would have shared the spoils with colleagues and his seniors in the party. And if he spills the beans, it will be disastrous for many top Trinamool leaders.

What’s worrisome for the top Trinamool leadership is Mandal’s close involvement in the illegal coal smuggling scam.

A senior Trinamool functionary--Vinay Mishra--was the kingpin of this scam and Mishra was also very close to Abhishek Banerjee.

Mishra’s flight out of India and his renouncing of Indian citizenship--thus putting him out of reach of the CBI and ED which are investigating the coal scam--came as a relief to the Trinamool leadership.

But if Mandal makes disclosures about the coal scam, even Abhishek Banerjee will reportedly be in trouble. So it is important to defend Mandal.

Mandal is intemperate and volatile

Mandal, unlike Chatterjee who is a seasoned politician, is quite volatile and acts impulsively.

That is why Mamata Banerjee is wary of what he may tell his interrogators. And that is why she is eager to convey to Mandal that she stands firmly beside him.

Mandal also made it amply clear to his party’s top leadership that he is expecting the latter to stand by him. After his arrest, he made it a point to ask media persons and his lawyers what Banerjee had to say about him.

And he expresses his satisfaction at Mamata defending him. The message to Banerjee was clear: he would not take kindly to any attempt by the party leadership to distance itself from him like it had done with Chatterjee.

That’s why Banerjee has defended the scam-accused Mandal so stoutly. She had no choice actually. Not defending him would have been disastrous for her.

Also read:
-Here’s all you need to know about Bengal’s cattle smuggling scam that netted Trinamool strongman Anubrata Mandal

-The State of scams: Decoding the deep rot in Bengal

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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