Ritabrata, the ‘Lavish’ Communist: Is CPI(M) Upset or Unrealistic?
Allegations of a lavish lifestyle have brought 39-year-old CPI-M Rajya Sabha MP Ritabrata Banerjee under the scanner. A three-member internal inquiry has been set up by the party and will submit its report within three months.
Party senior and former MP Samik Lahiri points out, “According to Article 19 of the CPI-M’s constitution, a member can only be expelled once he has been found guilty. While the media has written Ritabrata Banerjee off, our party has just instituted an internal inquiry. He is free to discharge his duties as an MP even as the inquiry is on.”
‘Lavish lifestyle’ has brought back memories of 1990. As a young journalist, I had to interview, on several occasions, the late Benoy Chowdhury, who was the minister for land reforms and Number 2 in the Cabinet. He used to be the acting chief minister when CM Jyoti Basu was away.
These interviews usually took place in his chamber at the Writers’ Building. But on one occasion, Benoyda was kind enough to ask me to come over to his residence on a Sunday evening as I had an urgent deadline. I sat in his small, modest sitting room and watched the acting chief minister fidget with the regulator of a fan.
His efforts were in vain as we stared at the motionless blades – it was a sultry summer evening. He apologised and sat down. Ignoring the suffocating heat, I expressed gratitude for the interview he had granted at a short notice and began with my questions.
Known as the Father of Land Reforms, Benoyda was an icon. He once shared the secret of his agility at 80, “As you age, reduce your food to half.”
He was a communist in the truest sense of the word. A bureaucrat once shared an incident that took place when he was posted in Burdwan. The district was in the midst of a drought and Benoyda had paid a surprise visit. He reached the Circuit House at 1 am and found that all the rooms were occupied, but asked the chowkidar not to wake up any of the officers who had already checked in. When the bureaucrat reached the Circuit House at 6 am, he was stunned to find the minister asleep on the floor of the drawing room!
Brouhaha Over ‘Lavish Lifestyle’
But, not every communist is Benoyda. The chief minister of the state, Jyoti Basu, enjoyed his glass of scotch in the evenings and looked forward to his annual trip to the UK, where close industrialist friends also joined him.
Dubbed ‘investment trips’, these were funded by the state government.
Also, Basu would matter of factly state that his constant supply of whiskey bottles were received as gifts. This did not diminish his stature in any way and he ruled the state of West Bengal with an iron hand from 1977 to 2000, making him the longest serving chief minister in the country’s history.
So the brouhaha over Ritabrata Banerjee’s ‘Apple watch and Mont Blanc pen’ is perplexing.
Regulars at the CPI-M headquarters in Kolkata’s Alimuddin Street are familiar with a bearded comrade in his spotless white kurta, who generously shares his 555 with those looking for a smoke. His iPhone in his hand, he fixes appointments for the party secretary.
“It is an internal issue of the CPI-M, but it is time they face the reality,” says Kolkata-based Shishir Bajoria, who left the CPI-M after a nearly two-decade-long association and is now a state executive member of the BJP.
Is the CPI-M living in a world of make-believe?
A party observer, who prefers to remain anonymous, says: “It reminds me of a joke about the Soviet Union. A person walking down the Red Square called Comrade Brezhnev a fool. He was immediately arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison. One year for abusing the general secretary and 10 years for letting out a state secret. This is what has happened to Ritabrata. Which CPI-M leader’s lifestyle matches his salary as a wholetime member?”
However, supporters of the CPI-M feel it is commendable that the party has on its own instituted an inquiry.
A veteran bureaucrat, who has closely watched 34 years of communist rule in the state, says: “This has come from within. In the prevailing political system, your opponents typically raise these issues and attack you.”
This is the CPI-M’s way of saying we may be down and out, but our systems are very much in place. We will not compromise. They want to send this message to the Trinamool Congress that they are different. A clean image is very important for them together with simplicity and probity in public life.Bengal-based bureaucrat (chose to remain anonymous)
‘Being Probed for Personal Issues’
While the committee set up by the party looks into the allegations against Ritabrata Banerjee, most party members are tight-lipped and refused to comment.
Off the record, a senior comrade says: “Contrary to media speculation, the allegations that are being looked into are about his personal life, it is a family dispute. He was divorced a few months ago. He is a brilliant young man. Nowadays, unfortunately, it is rare for bright students to join politics.”
The CPI-M, which desperately needs young blood, waits with bated breath for its committee’s verdict.
(The writer is a Kolkata-based senior journalist.)
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