Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s renewed rant against the BJP which she accused of running a Tughlaqi regime, betrays her growing nervousness of the proverbial noose that seems to be tightening around her party’s--and her--neck.
Two ministers and a key party leader are being interrogated by the CBI on orders of the courts for their alleged involvement in some scams while the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is all set to question the Chief Minister’s nephew and anointed heir Abhishek Banerjee and his wife on a coal scam and money laundering case.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee, who is also a close aide of Mamata Banerjee, has been questioned once by the CBI with regard to the largescale irregularities in recruitments by the state School Service Commission (SSC). The irregularities happened during Chatterjee’s tenure as education minister.
Junior Education Minister Paresh Adhikari was also ordered by the Calcutta High Court to appear before the CBI for questioning about the scam, especially the irregularities committed in appointing his own daughter as a school teacher.
On Friday (21 May), the High Court cancelled the appointment of Adhikari’s daughter and asked her to return the salary she had received as a teacher since November 2018. Adhikari, who was a leader of the Forward Bloc (a constituent of the Left Front), was also a food minister in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government.
Soon after Adhikari defected to the Trinamool, his daughter, who had secured a lower rank in the SSC exams, was given an out-of-turn appointment. The CBI has charged the father-daughter duo with criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption.
Trinamool’s Birbhum strongman and another close Mamata aide--Anubrata Mondal--is being questioned by the CBI in connection with a cattle smuggling case. He had cited ill health to avoid appearing before the CBI on multiple occasions, but was ultimately forced to on express directives of the court.
Mondal is close to Mamata Banerjee and she had defended him on many occasions. Mondal has run into many controversies, including openly threatening police officers and opposition leaders, and the opposition parties have accused him of deploying goons to rig polls.
Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek and his wife Rujira will soon have to face interrogation by the ED in a Rs 1,352 crore money laundering case linked to a coal smuggling racket that the agency is probing.
One of the prime accused in the money laundering and coal smuggling scam is Vinay Mishra, who was close to Abhishek Banerjee and was the general secretary of the Trinamool’s youth wing when it was headed by Abhishek Banerjee.
The ED and the CBI are probing the theft of millions of tonnes of coal from mines belonging to the public sector Eastern Coalfields Ltd and also the smuggling of cattle out of India to Bangladesh through porous parts of the international border. The proceeds of the coal theft and cattle smuggling, said to run into thousands of crores of Rupees, were allegedly laundered by Vinay Mishra and his brother Vikas (the ED arrested him and attached his properties).
Vinay Mishra, against whom the ED has already framed a chargesheet, had renounced his Indian citizenship in 2020 and became a citizen of Vanuatu. The kingpin of the cattle smuggling racket, one Mohammed Enamul Haque (he is in custody), is also alleged to be close to some senior Trinamool leaders including Anubrata Mondal.
Haque, it is learnt, has named some Trinamool leaders during his custodial interrogation for benefiting from the smuggling, the proceeds of which run into a few hundred crore Rupees every year.
Vinay Mishra’s brother Vikas has also provided a lot of information to the central agencies during his custodial interrogation. He has reportedly named some top Trinamool leaders for their involvement in laundering the proceeds of the coal theft and cattle smuggling and parking huge sums of money in offshore accounts.
The ED wants to question Abhishek Banerjee about his links with Vinay Mishra. Mamata Banerjee fears that the probe may widen into her nephew’s huge assets, and that could spell serious trouble for Abhishek and the party.
There is also trouble brewing on another front for the Trinamool: the court-mandated CBI probe into brutal assaults and murders of scores of BJP workers and supporters in the run-up to and immediately after the 2021 Assembly polls in the state. The central agency is learnt to have collected irrefutable evidence about the involvement of many Trinamool leaders in the attacks and murders. Earlier this week, a senior Trinamool MLA, Paresh Pal, was quizzed by the CBI on his alleged involvement in the brutal murder of a BJP workers immediately after the polls.
The noose, thus, seems to be tightening around the Trinamool’s, and Mamata Banerjee’s, neck. That is why she has upped the ante against the BJP and the union government, accusing them of using central agencies to settle political scores and target her. She has also evoked the bogey of ‘Bengali pride’ by terming the probes by central agencies as attempts to ‘defame Bengal’.
Her most recent rants only betray her nervousness at the probes, many of them Court mandated or sanctioned, netting senior and key leaders of her party and even her nephew Abhishek. In such an eventuality, her party would face a serious crisis and may even implode.
Mamata Banerjee would then be desperate to save herself and her party and may go in for a covert understanding with the BJP. There is a widespread perception in Bengal that this is exactly what happened when the CBI probes into the chit fund scams in Bengal found the involvement of many top leaders of her party.
It is widely believed in Bengal that Mamata Banerjee cut a deal with the BJP at that time; the central agencies were said to be asked to go slow on their probes against Trinamool leaders and in exchange, the Trinamool indirectly supported the passage of key bills in Parliament.
But while Mamata Banerjee and her party gained from that alleged understanding, it was the BJP which lost and had to face attacks by the Trinamool in Bengal. The BJP central leadership, which stands accused of abandoning party workers in Bengal who faced attacks by Trinamool goons, should not cut any slack to Mamata Banerjee now.
If anything, the central agencies must be asked to expedite their investigations and file strong chargesheets so that Trinamool leaders involved in scams are swiftly prosecuted and indicted. Union Home Minister Amit Shah was right in telling BJP workers in Bengal earlier this month that they should not depend on central agencies or the union government to fight the battle against the Trinamool on their behalf and should take on the Trinamool on the ground.
But Shah, and the BJP central leadership, have to back the party workers of Bengal fully and stand by them. Right now, many BJP workers in Bengal are disillusioned.
The only way that the party leadership can boost their morale is by displaying a strong resolve to take Mamata Banerjee and her party head-on. The BJP leaders have to match Mamata Banerjee’s aggression. They cannot be seen to be soft towards her.
There should be no covert deals, or even whispers of such deals, between BJP high-ups and Mamata Banerjee. Trinamool leaders have to face the consequences of their alleged misdeeds and the BJP central leadership should not bail them out.
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