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SSC Case: Is TMC Subtly Distancing Itself from Partha Chatterjee?

The Trinamool Congress is being rather diplomatic, it isn't supporting Chatterjee, nor is it blaming him...yet.

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It is surprising that a party which is known to hit the streets for just about anything that they don’t agree with, has not done the same for one of Mamata Banerjee's most trusted lieutenants.

Since West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee’s residence was raided by the Enforcement Directorate, followed by his arrest after 26 hours of search and seizure, not a single TMC worker has hit the streets.

Chatterjee was arrested by the ED on Saturday 23 July in connection with the alleged irregularities in the recruitment of teachers, clerks and staff in state-run schools. He was arrested after Rs 21 crores in cash were recovered from his ‘close aide’ Arpita Mukherjee’s residence.

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Not Hitting The Streets This Time

TMC Supremo Mamata Banerjee reiterated the party's stance over Partha Chatterjee claiming that neither she nor the party had any relation whatsoever with the money that was found, and that anyone in her party, be it a minister or an MLA, if found stealing, will be punished.

I don't support corruption or any wrongdoing. If anyone is found guilty, then he or she must be punished. The truth must come out soon. I condemn the malicious campaign against me.
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal

Before this, the TMC has only held a press conference on Saturday evening directly dissociating itself from Mukherjee, and the money that was found at her residence.

The press conference was convened by Kunal Ghosh, Firhad Hakim, Aroop Biswas and Chandrima Bhattacharya. Ghosh clearly stated that action will be taken against Chatterjee if the courts find him guilty. They also demanded a time-bound investigation. Praying for a time-bound probe is something that you don't hear a party say very often.

No leader, no matter how highly placed, will be spared by the party and the government if found guilty by law. The arrest has helped the opposition indulge in kite flying. This will continue if the probe goes on indefinitely. We demand a quick, time-bound probe
Kunal Ghosh, AITC State General Secretary

So, the party took a very diplomatic innocent-until-proven-guilty stance in this case, as opposed to them going all guns blazing, as seen in previous instances.

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In May 2021, when Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee and Shovan Chatterjee were arrested by the Centraul Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Narada Bribery case, scores of TMC workers gheraoed CBI’s headquarters in Kolkata at Nizam Palace, and the BJP state headquarters.

CM Banerjee stormed the CBI office and staged a dharna which lasted about six hours, demanding the unconditional release of the four leaders in the case, or to arrest her too.

The Trinamool Congress is being rather diplomatic, it isn't supporting Chatterjee, nor is it blaming him...yet.

WB CM Mamata Banerjee leaves the CBI offices after the four leaders are granted bail

(Photo: PTI)

You have to arrest me if you have arrested them.
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal

In 2019, CM Banerjee sat on a two-day dharna at Kolkata’s Esplanade when the CBI tried to arrest then Kolkata Police Commissioner, and Banerjee’s blue-eyed boy Rajeev Kumar, in relation to the Saradha chit-fund case.

The Trinamool Congress is being rather diplomatic, it isn't supporting Chatterjee, nor is it blaming him...yet.

WB CM Mamata Banerjee sits on dharna with ex-police commisioner Rajeev Kumar

(Photo: PTI)

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She had attacked the BJP-led central government in 2017 when MP Sudip Bandhopadhyay was arrested in the Rose-Valley chit fund case. Several TMC workers including Partha Chatterjee had protested when Madan Mitra was arrested by CBI in 2018 in relation to the Saradha case.

A Tricky Situation for TMC

Make no mistake, Partha Chatterjee is still one of the the most important leaders in the TMC’s ranks. He is the national vice-president, party’s secretary-general and one of Banerjee’s go-to people for administrative affairs. He has been a loyal soldier of Banerjee since the party’s early days, and has always been at the forefront when protesting against the arrest of his colleagues.

And it is his stature in the party which makes the silence more deafening.

The most plausible reason behind the party’s diplomatic stance is the large sum of cash that has been seized from Mukherjee’s residence with alleged links to Chatterjee. In almost every case involving TMC leaders previously, there has been direct evidence or a trail of money linking them to the alleged scam.

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This time, the skeletons are out of the closet.

The TMC finds itself in a bit of a tricky spot, because if they fully back Chatterjee, then they stand to further anger the thousands of SSC aspirants who may be feeling ‘betrayed’ and have been protesting for almost 500 days now. Almost 70 percent of the state’s youth appear for the SSC recruitment examinations, and that is a crucial voter base for the party.

On the other hand, the TMC can’t expel Chatterjee, despite there being demands for his and Paresh Adhikary’s (another leader accused in the same case) expulsion. Expelling the leaders can cause two big problems for the party.

The central agencies have been hounding opposition leaders for quite some time now, and the TMC is no stranger to it, with its own national general secretary being called in for questioning every now and then. If Chatterjee is expelled by the party before the investigation is completed, then the central agencies will have more incentive to go after more TMC leaders. As experts would have it, if the CBI or ED tastes blood, they would want more.

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Secondly, if the party expels the leaders now, then it would damage the reputation of the party over taking a late decision and in many ways acknowledging the alleged scam. This comes when the party is being accused of several 'scams' including the alleged smuggling of coal and cattle, recruitment of teaching staff and more.

But one can say that the party, or at least Mamata Banerjee has acknowledged the ‘shortcomings’ of some of her leaders. At the Shahid Dibas rally on Thursday, a day before Chatterjee’s house was raided, Banerjee said:

We work for the people and sometimes mistakes happen. If someone has done anything wrong, he will be punished.
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal

It would be ironic if the TMC would seemingly go back on its word a day after the party’s two top leaders spoke about punishing those who make mistakes, and there being no place for corrupt leaders in the party.

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On that, it has long been speculated that Chatterjee and heir apparent Abhishek Banerjee have had a falling out, especially with Banerjee’s ‘one person one post’ policy. Banerjee, who saw Chatterjee as a mentor like figure since the former’s foray into politics, reportedly seeks to dissociate himself from him and does not agree with his style of functioning.

Chatterjee claims that he tried to contact CM Mamata Banerjee four-times after being arrested but she did not answer. Even his arrest memo has Banerjee’s name and number.

Chatterjee is currently being treated at AIIMS Bhubaneswar and has been remanded to a two-day ED custody. A special CBI court will be hearing his case on Monday, 25 July.

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