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OF ANUBRATA’S RELEVANCE AND POLITICAL ‘CRISIS’
TMC heavy weight and the party’s Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal, who had evaded at least eight CBI summons in the cattle smuggling case, was taken into custody on Thursday, reportedly for “not cooperating” with the agency. Popularly known as “Kestoda”, Mondal is among the most trusted associates of Chief Minister CM Mamata Banerjee. He used to enjoy more clout, power and visibility in West Bengal even than ministers and many MLAs. He used to be considered as the “betaaj badshah” of Birbhum! Mondal, who has never contested any election in his career so far, has always managed party affairs from behind the scenes. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, TMC won both Bolpur and Birbhum. TMC repeated the act in the 2021 Assembly polls as it managed a clean sweep in the district, winning 10 out of 11 seats – and the victory was entirely credited to the booth management skills of the political heavyweight Mondal! It may be noted that in both these elections, the Election Commission had kept him under hawkeye surveillance after the poll panel received complaints that he could reportedly influence voters in a major way.
With his arrest, the CBI is probing a bigger conspiracy (possibly) the “role” of other politicians in the case. Mondal’s arrest came soon after former state minister Partha Chatterjee was arrested by the ED in the SSC scam. Both are TMC heavyweights and it’s not tough to guess how the arrests could have been major setbacks for the party. Agencies like the ED and CBI had earlier stepped up investigations into Ponzi schemes in Bengal ahead of the 2013 panchayat polls, the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2016 Assembly elections and made several arrests too. And now with the Lok Sabha polls barely two years away in 2024, the cattle smuggling investigation may accelerate, feel political analysts. It may be noted that West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections managed to clinch 18 of them. It goes without saying that for the TMC, given its national ambition, each of these seats will be important as the battle will go down to the wire. Investigators so far have found evidence of illegal cross-border selling of cattle and use of ill-gotten money. According to the CBI, Mondal “procured huge number of cattle” from the Ilambazar Pashuhat and allegedly ensured safe passage of the same to the border along Bangladesh.
ABOUT THE CASE
A case was registered by the CBI on September 21 way back in 2020 against four accused, including Satish Kumar, who was the Commandant of the BSF’s 36 Battalion in Malda during the time span between December 19, 2015 to April 22, 2017. The FIR also alleges that during Kumar’s tenure, the BSF seized more than 20,000 heads of cattle before they could be transported across the border, but the vehicles ferrying the same were not confiscated and also persons involved were not even apprehended.
CBI’S TAKE IN THE CASE?
According to the CBI, Mondal is directly involved in the case and was in touch with the main accused, Enamul Haque, through his aide Saigal Hossain. The CBI also alleged that Saigal had collected money which was part of the proceeds from this illegal trade “in the name” of the strongman.
WHAT MAMATA SAID?
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday said she will stand with the strongman and announced to “start a movement” against alleged excesses of the CBI and the ED. She told at a gathering, “What has Kesto done? Even as he was locked in his house, we won the Assembly elections last year. The ED and CBI ransacked his house at midnight. If you arrest one Kesto, we will create thousands of them. We will hit the streets from August 16 on the ‘Khela Hobe Divas’. There will be ‘Khela hobe’, again (Let the game start, again).” Several TMC leaders, including political analysts had initially thought that Mamata would not stand by Anubrata as she did when another TMC heavyweight Partha Chatterjee was arrested. Chatterjee was removed from the cabinet and was also suspended from the party. Blasting the BJP, CPI(M) and the Congress, the CM said, “They all are comrades in arms. They have no place in this state. They do not have a place in the country either.” In a veiled attack against the BJP, she also claimed that the West Bengal Police had saved the Jharkhand government following the arrest of three Congress MLAs with a huge cash haul. “They (BJP) would have toppled the Jharkhand government. Now they called our officers to Delhi out of revenge. Why is the central government harassing our officers” she asked. The 62-year-old “Kestoda” who hails from a farmer’s family, has been with the TMC since the party was launched in 1998. He is well known for the Khela Hobe slogan. He first hit the headlines during the 2013 panchayat election. It may be noted that Mondal has been named in a number of cases, including for threatening people, murder and those related to stone and cattle-smuggling, sand but has never been tried. Mondal’s clout can be gauged from the fact that in February 2022, he was included in the TMC’s national working committee. He was the only district-level leader who managed to make it to the top TMC organisation. Both Partha and Anubrata were heavyweights, but Partha was never a mass leader, but Anubrata was crucial to the party’s organisation in western and central districts. Even as party leaders feel that the top leaders’ silence and maintaining a distance from every arrested leader could have a backlash from the workers on the ground, the TMC is apparently planning a protest against the alleged excesses of the central agencies.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL
ROBIN ROY The writer is Senior Journalist and former Managing Editor, First India