Tainted by Narada, four hope to win a small referendum in Bengal 5th phase poll

All considered close to Mamata Banerjee, a victory will be used by these four leaders as a positive referendum in people’s court

Written by Subrata Nagchowdhury | Kolkata | Updated: April 30, 2016 9:37:10 am
A wall graffiti at Behala East. (Express Photo by Partha Paul) A wall graffiti at Behala East. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Tainted by the Narada sting tapes, that showed them purportedly taking money, four Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders, including three ministers in Mamata Banerjee’s outgoing government, are in the fray in Saturday’s sixth-phase polling. All of them considered very close to the chief minister — in fact, part of her core group — they are eyeing the polls, and the results on May 19, with extra attention.

For, an election victory would give them a “referendum” for coming clean. These leaders, like almost all the others who featured in the Narada sting, are extremely popular among the masses and have a charismatic appeal. The electoral outcome is being seen as the first step for many to get absolved from the charges — at least in the court of people.

Contesting from Behala East is Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee, a Narada-tainted figure. Chatterjee, the sitting MLA, is also president of South-24 Parganas district TMC, and one of Mamata’s closest lieutenants. He enjoyed immense official responsibilities and had been given charge of grooming Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew.

As the district TMC president with a strong grip over the party, Chatterjee played a huge role in Abhishek’s victory in 2014 from Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency.

On Saturday, Chatterjee will take on a man who has no love lost for Mamata — Ambikesh Mahapatra, the Jadavpur University professor who was jailed for circulating online a cartoon of the CM and party’s senior leader Mukul Roy, incidentally also accused in the Narada sting. Mahapatra, along with retired Supreme Court judge Ashok Ganguly among others, had formed Akranta Amra (We Are Attacked) to launch a popular movement against the Mamata government. The Left-Congress alliance has not put up any candidate in Behala East to ensure the seat becomes a one-on-one contest between Chatterjee and Mahapatra.

Subrata Mukherjee, who defends his seat from Ballygunge, had also featured in the Narada sting and is one of the seniormost ministers, with the portfolio of panchayat and rural development. The veteran politician he is, Mukherjee is confident in the run-up to the polls. Although not willing to speak on Narada, he knows that a victory would give him a better manouvering space.

Then there is Firhad Hakim — a close lieutenant of Mamata, the urban development minister in her government, a popular face among her Muslim votebank, and who has featured in the Narada tapes.

Hakim, who will defend his seat in Kolkata Port, has also come up from the grassroots, having contested and risen from the Kolkata municipal polls and gaining in stature as a leader over the years. But he now has to bear the double weight of Narada and the collapsed Vivekananda Bridge in North Kolkata — as the UD minister, it was under his jurisdiction and responsibility.

Iqbal Ahmed is another TMC leader who was shown on the Narada sting and is alleged to have acted as the “middleman”, taking the journalists posing as businessmen interested in corporate ventures in Bengal to meet different leaders. Not shown to have taken any money in the sting tapes, Iqbal is contesting from Khanakool constituency in Hooghly. He is also a close relative of Sultan Ahmed, the TMC MP who was shown purportedly accepting bribe in the tapes.

Going by sheer record, all the four are extremely winnable candidates. But records and past statistics, as they say in cricket, do not often show how the wind blows on D-day. For that, all four will eagerly wait for May 19.

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