Until Sunday, 14 August, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was silent on the arrest of her close aide Anubrata Mondal. The TMC too had been taking a diplomatic approach – while they kept highlighting their no-tolerance-towards-corruption motto and accused the central agencies of being partisan, the party never openly defended Mondal.
True to history, Banerjee roared in Mondal’s defence on Sunday evening at an event, which was coincidentally held in Partha Chatterjee’s constituency of Behala, another leader who is currently being probed by central agencies and is languishing in jail.
While Mondal was arrested for his alleged involvement in a 2020 cattle smuggling case, Chatterjee is in jail for his alleged involvement in the irregularities in the hiring of teaching and teaching staff through the WBSSC examinations.
The party had already hit the streets protesting the actions of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate since the arrest of Mondal on August 11 , but Banerjee’s speeches on Sunday and Monday respectively upped the ante and gave the cadre a much-needed morale boost.
Mondal, 62 has been remanded to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) custody till 20 August by a special CBI court
In Anubrata Mondal’s Defence
What has Keshto done? What evidence do you have against him?Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal
The biggest keyword in Banerjee’s speech that explains the difference in how Mondal and Chatterjee have been treated by the party is “evidence”.
In Chatterjee’s case, there was evidence in the form of Rs. 50 lakh crores in cash, foreign currency, land deeds, and several flats which were recovered by the ED from “close aide” Arpita Mukherjee’s residence. The evidence linked Chatterjee directly to the recovered evidence and hinted strongly at his involvement in the alleged SSC scam.
In Mondal’s case however, there is no direct evidence yet that links him to the alleged cattle smuggling scam for which he has been arrested. Hence the visual impact of this is minimal compared to what happened in Chatterjee’s case. The CBI meanwhile has named Mondal for the first time in the supplementary chargesheet that they filed in the matter.
Thus, the lack of evidence is reason enough for Banerjee to claim Mondal’s evidence. The party had suffered a huge loss of face when the images of crores of cash went viral all-over TV and social media, and the TMC had nothing to say in their defence. So, they took stern action against the party.
The party has said that action will be taken against Mondal if evidence linking him to the alleged scam is found.
Mondal commands immense influence over Birbhum, Purba and Paschim Bardhhaman, and his organisational skills will be required if the party wants to keep up their winning streak in the upcoming 2023 Panchayat elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. While Chatterjee may not have been a mass leader, Mondal is, and he has played a very crucial role in the party’s functioning and expansion.
TMC sources have also told The Quint that the party couldn’t afford to abandon Mondal. Cadre moral was already down after the TMC distanced itself from Partha, so if they distanced themselves from another senior leader, it would be detrimental to other senior leaders.
She even praised Mondal for his work.
Keshto never wanted anything, from me or anybody else. He did not even wish to become an MLA or an MP. I requested him to go to the Rajya Sabha, but he politely refused.Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal
Meanwhile, Mondal’s lawyer told the media that Mondal is feeling reassured and confident after Banerjee showed faith in him. CBI sources told The Quint that Mondal has not been cooperative with them, even more so since he heard about Banerjee’s speech.
Fighting Back Against Central Agencies
How many people will be arrested? I will start a ‘jail bharo’ movement. What will you do if they go to my house tomorrow?Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal
While defending Mondal, Banerjee also launched a scathing attack on central agencies, accusing them of working on the behest of the central government. The TMC has been going hammer and tongs against the CBI and ED since Chatterjee’s arrest. She even mentioned that the agencies might come after Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim and TMC National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
It is pertinent to note that Hakim was arrested last year by the CBI in relation to the Narada bribery case, for which he was bailed within a few days. Abhishek Banerjee has been called for interrogation repeatedly by the ED in relation to the alleged coal pilferage scam.
During her speeches, she accused the central agencies of not going after Suvendu Adhikari, without naming him for the Saradha and Narada cases. She said that the BJP is trying to break non-NDA governments using central agencies.
They (BJP) would have toppled the Jharkhand government (led by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha). Now they called our officers to Delhi out of revenge. Why is the central government harassing our officers?Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal
She urged more people to take to the streets to protest, especially on August 16 which the TMC recently started observing as Khela Hobe Divas. Banerjee urged her supporters to turn up the heat against the BJP and central agencies in the coming days. And true to their nature, TMC supporters have followed suit.
But throughout this saga, Banerjee and the party have constantly maintained and repeatedly reminded the audience about their “intolerance towards corruption” approach. What remains to be seen is how the Anubrata Mondal saga plays out. Despite the party’s sheer dominance in the state, the recent arrests and loss of face can prove to be a major setback for the party in Bengal as well as nationally, where the party is already on the backfoot.