The arrest of Trinamool’s Bahubali, Anubrata Mandal, by the CBI Thursday morning for his alleged involvement in a cattle smuggling scam has dealt another blow to party chairperson and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Mandal, who Mamata fondly calls by his nickname Keshto (another name for Hanumanji), is very close to the Trinamool supremo. The burly Mandal is a trusted lieutenant of Mamata Banerjee, who consults him on all major organisational matters.
Keshto’s arrest, coming on the heels of the arrest of another close Mamata aide and senior minister Partha Chatterjee in a teacher recruitment scam, is a big blow to Mamata Banerjee.
Mandal, who was a fishmonger before joining politics, became a powerful figure in the Trinamool. He has carefully cultivated the image of a strongman and allegedly had under his command a huge army of goons.
Though Mandal is the president of the Trinamool’s Birbhum district unit, his influence and area of operations exceed far beyond the borders of his home district and includes Purba Bardhaman, Paschim Bardhaman, Bankura and Purulia districts.
Mandal, say Opposition leaders, patronises a large army of goons that his party often deploys to browbeat, or beat, political opponents. He is notorious for issuing open threats to opposition parties and also to the police.
The controversial Trinamool leader is alleged to have under his control the illegal bomb-making ‘industry’ in the Birbhum-Bardhaman belt. Countrymade bombs made there are allegedly supplied to Trinamool cadre all over the state and used to intimidate and attack political opponents.
Mandal, say opposition politicians, heads a powerful mafia that controls many illicit activities like illegal mining of coal, sand and stones, cattle smuggling and the lucrative extortion racket in the Birbhum-Bardhaman-Bankura belt. These rackets generate thousands of crores of Rupees every year and the spoils are allegedly distributed by Mandal to his party colleagues, and police and civil administration officials.
Such is Mandal’s clout that senior officials, including the police chief and district magistrate of Birbhum and surrounding districts are scared of him and defer to him. No action has ever been taken against him for openly threatening opposition politicians and the police.
That’s because he enjoys Mamata Banerjee’s patronage and unstinted support. The Trinamool chief is reported to be heavily dependent on Mandal for running the party organisation in the Birbhum-Bardhaman-Purulia-Bankura belt and for ensuring good results for the Trinamool from that area during elections.
It is also whispered in political circles that Mandal’s illegal operations yield a lot of funds that go to the party coffers and the pockets of top Trinamool leaders and state administration officials. “He (Mandal) heads many rackets, including illegal mining of sand, stones and coal, cattle smuggling etc and everyone receives a fat cut from the thousands of crores of Rupees generated from these illegal activities,” said leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikary.
“Mandal is privy to many secrets and is a key figure in the party, especially in the crucial Birbhum-Bardhaman-Bankura belt that is rich in natural resources, has many industrial units and generates a huge amount of revenue. Without him, the Trinamool is nothing in this belt. That is why he is so close to Mamata Banerjee who has always turned a blind eye to his misdeeds and patronises him so much. Mandal knows many secrets of the party,” said a CPI(M) leader.
It is well known that Mandal derives his powers from Mamata Banerjee. Without her approval and support, he could never have become so powerful and made the administrations of the districts under his charge totally subservient to him.
“Mamata Banerjee cannot pretend to be ignorant of all the illegal activities that Mandal was involved in. She has the state intelligence machinery to keep her informed of all that goes on in the state. She knew everything that Mandal did, and looked the other way because it benefited her party,” said BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh.
Mandal’s arrest by the CBI in a cattle-smuggling case is, thus, a big blow to Mamata Banerjee. She has lost a trusted lieutenant--one that she and her party were wholly dependent on--and a key figure in the party.
Mamata Banerjee will also be nervous about Mandal divulging the party’s secrets to his CBI interrogators. “He is ailing and is not likely to withstand the pressure of sustained and intensive interrogation that he may be subjected to. He is a key figure in the illegal mining and cattle smuggling rackets and if he starts talking, many other senior Trinamool functionaries, including ministers, will find themselves behind bars,” said a senior BJP leader.
The Trinamool chairperson will also be worried about the damage that Mandal’s arrest does to her image and political standing. More so since it comes close on the heels of the arrest of her senior colleague and trusted aide Partha Chatterjee.
The recovery of huge mounds of cash--alleged proceeds from the teachers’ recruitment scam--from the residences of a close associate of Chatterjee has put the Trinamool in an embarrassing spot. Mandal’s arrest, and the inevitable disclosures (about the cattle smuggling scam) that will rattle the party even more.
Mamata Banerjee makes a virtue out of her proclaimed simplicity and clean image. These arrests, as well as allegations of the involvement of her party leaders in various scams, threatens to sully that carefully-crafted image.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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