By Ashis Biswas
West Bengal’s dynamic Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mr. Madan Mitra achieved two rare distinctions during the past fortnight: he is the first Cabinet Minister to be arrested on a criminal charge in the state.
Down but not out, the unfazed Mitra then added a further embellishment by cocking a snook at the judiciary. The court trying his case ordered a 14-day jail custody remand. The Minister promptly pleaded illness and got himself admitted to one of the VIP wards in the best run official hospital in town, the SSKM .
As soon as the court passed its order late in the afternoon on Dec 19, Mitra did reach the Alipore jail, where he spent all of 90 minutes in the chamber of the Superintendent. Then, he reported a sudden chest pain. He was promptly sent to the nearby SSKM hospital for immediate medical attention. On whose official orders, it was not clear.
At this writing, there he remains. However, during this time, with his reputed dynamism, he had himself shifted to one of the more spacious VIP wards, complete with AC, a spare bed, personal attendant and a balcony with a nice view. Sympathetic visitors, mostly party loyalists, dropped in with flowers, dripping with sympathy. The Minister also used his mobile and read his papers. He could have been functioning from his office, for all the ‘restrictions’ imposed on him. The only negative was an apparent loss of appetite.
It needs stating that there are adequate facilities at Alipore Central jail, where political and other prisoners are usually sent. It is considered standard medical procedure for heart patients not to be physically moved too much, as far as possible. But such procedures do not apply to Mr, Mitra or others in the TMC like him.
He might be charged with having been actively associated with the Saradha chit fund operators in their shady operations, of having salted away crores of rupees in cash. But these small matters have not reduced his clout within the TMC. His arrest by the CBI prompted state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to declare a virtual war against the Centre and Mr Narendra Modi.
She refused to accept his ‘letter of resignation’ and left him his Transport portfolio, one of the most mismanaged even by the wretched standards of governance set by the TMC. On her call, frenzied TMC supporters blocked roads, kicked down police barricades set up on the roads, with police parties bringing him to court and escorting him back. ‘They seemed to be handling delicate china, it was more like escorting a VIP than bringing an accused person to court, ‘remarked a scribe. They even sprinkled flowers on his car! Pro TMC lawyers shouted in unison and drowned the voice of lawyers representing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Unless something extraordinary happens, Mr. Mitra seems poised to spend the remainder of his court-ordered ‘jail custody remand’ in super specialty VIP ward of the Government run hospital, at the expense of the common tax payer.
Mr Mitra’s record of illness and recovery during the past few weeks has been a fascinating story in its own right. The Minister has always pleaded chest pains, sleep disorders, irregular heartbeats and a host of other disturbing symptoms. Remarkably, they occur whenever the CBI sends him notices for questioning. On one occasion, he first got himself admitted to one of the top private nursing homes in the city. When nothing disturbing could be found, he shifted to the SSKM hospital without notice to the private nursing home. At SSKM over 50 different tests were conducted to check Mitra’s well being at the taxpayers’ expense. Again, there was no cause for alarm, it seemed. “Amazing, these doctors … the Minister says and thinks he is sick, but how is it that the doctors cannot find anything , I wonder whether they know their jobs,’ muttered angry TMC supporters who seemed to have the run of the hospital administration.
It needs special mention that Mitra has long headed the TMC-affiliated Workers’ Unions at the SSKM. TMC loyalists recalled the great help and assistance they unfailingly received from him whenever they had approached him. ‘You cannot expect us to stand by and watch silently from silently even as our leader is being harassed by the hated Modi,’ shouted angry TMC supporters as they raised slogans and burnt effigies of the Indian Prime Minister.
“The entire business of the Minister being shifted from jail and admitted to the high security VIP ward without being seriously troubled medically is illegal and unprecedented’, fumed former Mayor and lawyer Bikash Bhattacharya. ‘The court and the CBI need to take urgent note of these tactics.’ veteran Congress(I) leader Abdul Mannan, whose relentless Supreme court campaign led to the CBI probe, said, ‘Such things can happen only in West Bengal, and under a TMC government.’
Mitra’s antics evoked a sharp reaction from an unexpected corner. TMC Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh, already in jail on account of his role in the Saradha scam, lashed out against him during a hearing in his own case. ‘How is it that whenever I want to talk to the press, the police attending me begin shouting loudly and shoving me around, to drown my voice. Yet when they escort other arrested people like VIPs and allow them to hold press conferences! The court should take note. I want the CBI to talk to me. I will provide them with concrete information as to how Mamata Banerjee and Mukul Roy have benefited the most from the scam. I have always co-operated with the authorities,’ said an explosive Kunal Ghosh.
Agrees former Judge Bhagwati Banerjee. ‘What the police are doing to Kunal to silence him does not happen in a civilised society. Also, the higher judiciary should take immediate note of the organised misbehaviour within the court premises of the so-called TMC backed lawyers. Such people should be disbarred.’
A senior scribe said, ‘What we are seeing in a case of wolves devouring each other. I never thought I would ever find myself agreeing with Kumal, whose record as an honest journalist was never inspiring. Nevertheless, if the man says he has information other do not have, the authorities should talk to him, not prejudge him. It is common knowledge that like Kunal, Mukul Roy and Madan Mitra were and are, extremely close to the Chief Minister. There is a general scare within the TMC whether Mitra would spill the beans to his interrogators during the questionings that would follow. Now the Enforcement Directorate also wants to talk to him, too. I only wonder, what the TMC can hope to do to recover from the massive damage they have suffered through the Saradha scam exposures and their telltale links with the arch criminals?’
Clearly this one is for the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee to answer. (IPA Service)