Unlimited authority behind the downfall of Partha Chatterjee, Anubrata Mondal

Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mondal, both currently in the news after their arrest by central agencies on corruption charges, hail from two completely different social and cultural backgrounds.

An alumnus of the iconic Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission Residential School, a bachelor’s degree holder in economics from the University of Calcutta and finally a management degree holder from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Chatterjee’s professional career was brilliant. Till joining active politics with the Trinamool Congress in 2001, he was the general manager in charge of the human resources development department with Andrew Yule & Company Limited, from where he resigned and successfully contested the 2001 West Bengal assembly elections from Behala (West) constituency, from where he is still an MLA.

Since then, there was no looking back for Chatterjee until the end of last month when he was arrested by Enforcement Directorate (ED) sleuths in connection with the multi-crore West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) recruitment scam.

Till his arrest last month, Chatterjee enjoyed the affection and patronage of Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee as is evident from his meteoric rise within the party. From the position of the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal assembly to holder of different high-profile portfolios in the West Bengal government, Chatterjee’s rise within the party was really fast. In fact, the post of secretary general in the Trinamool Congress was created specially by the chief minister to give Chatterjee a status equivalent to the party’s national general secretary. He became the most trusted lieutenant and second-in-command of Mamata Banerjee.

On the other hand, Anubrata Mondal came from a lower-middle class family from Birbhum district and received negligible formal education. He earned his livelihood as a retail fish trader at the local fish market in Bolpur. However, his unique selling point was his diehard anti-CPI(M) stand and rough and tough image due to which he became a terror for the organizational structure of the CPI(M) even during the peak of Left Front rule.

There he caught the attention of Mamata Banerjee, the then opposition leader in West Bengal and there started his rise within the party in his own limited sphere of Birbhum district. After the Trinamool Congress came to power in West Bengal in 2011 ending the 34-year Left Front rule, Mondal was nominated as the Trinamool Congress Birbhum district president, a post which he still holds. He has the record of being the only district president in the party who had never been replaced.

Understanding his cultural and communication limitations, he came to an understanding with the chief minister that he will remain satisfied as the party’s Birbhum district president and not eye any legislative or ministerial post.

Since then, there had been several complaints against both Chatterjee and Mondal about their respective styles of functioning. The complaint against Chatterjee was that he always used to boast of being the second-in-command to Mamata Banerjee both in the state government as well as in the party and often used to dump his own decisions on his subordinates claiming he had the consent of the chief minister. Some senior party leaders tried to raise this issue with the chief minister but stepped back as Banerjee was reluctant to entertain any internal complaint about Chatterjee.

Similarly, Mondal’s style of functioning as the party’s Birbhum district president was virtually like the lord of the district administration. In front of TV cameras, he was heard directing a senior district police officer to implicate a woman leader of the CPI(M) in a narcotics case. At public meetings he was heard directing his followers to hurl bombs at police vehicles if they do not follow party instructions. He could continue with such autocratic misconduct as he had the patronage of the chief minister, who even once said in a public meeting that Mondal suffers from lack of oxygen in his brain which often makes him lose his temper. “Some people are after him. They say a lot of things against him. But at the end of the day, he is a good organizer and my support is always for good organizers. Remember that he has a problem. He does not keep well and needs oxygen support frequently,” the chief minister said at a public rally at Bolpur in February 2014.

Maverick Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra indirectly admitted that both Chatterjee and Mondal enjoyed special authority in the party. “Body structure-wise or authority-wise both Partha and Anubrata were truly heavyweight leaders. However, the situation has changed now and the party leadership said that there will be no association with anyone involved in corruption,” he said.

According to CPI(M) central committee member and former leader of Left legislative parties in the Assembly, Sujan Chakraborty, be it Partha Chatterjee or Anubrata Mondal, both were just puppets in the hands of the supreme leader of the ruling party. “No one believes that the two had been resorting to such criminal offences without the knowledge or the direct patronage of the supreme leader. Now the supreme leader is trying to brush away responsibility since both have been arrested and will not serve any purpose for her. It is high time that central agencies divert their investigation towards the main brain behind all this corruption,” he said.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that it had always been the practice of the Trinamool Congress supremo to give unlimited powers to party leaders as long as they could serve her purpose and then quietly turn away from the same leaders when they got caught. “In the coming days ruling party leaders facing similar heat from the central agencies will receive the same treatment from her,” he said.

According to political analyst Nirmalya Banerjee every political party has some crude elements who handle the darker side of political activities like arranging funds or keeping the opposition under control through undemocratic means. “Even CPI(M) had an organized force of such crude elements. But the difference is that the top CPI(M) leadership had always set the limits up to which such elements can function. Any crude element trying to cross those limits were first cautioned and then silently eliminated from the party. But the problem was that the Trinamool Congress, not being an organized political force like the CPI(M), had never set any limit for its leaders. And when limits were not set there was no question of cautioning them if they crossed the boundaries,” he said.

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