Trinamool leader and the party’s Birbhum district president Anubrata Mondal, who has been evading the CBI’s summons in a cattle smuggling case, was on Thursday taken into custody, allegedly for not cooperating with the central agency. Mondal had cited health reasons to skip at least eight summons of the CBI, including two earlier this week.
Mondal, popularly called “Kestoda”, is considered among the most trusted aides of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, enjoying more clout and power in the state than ministers and several MLAs. His is the last word in Birbhum, with his palatial home in the district drawing more crowds than the TMC’s district party office.
Mondal, who has not contested any election so far, is the TMC’s strategist for Birbhum, preferring to manage the party from behind the scenes. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC clinched both the seats, Birbhum and Bolpur, from the district. The party repeated that feat in the 2021 Assembly elections, when it swept the district, winning 10 of 11 seats – a performance that was credited to Mondal’s booth management skills. In each of these elections, the Election Commission had kept him under strict surveillance following complaints that he might influence voters.
The 62-year-old TMC leader, who comes from a family of farmers, has been with the TMC since its inception in 1998. His strongman image first came into focus during the 2013 panchayat election – two years after Mamata Banerjee first came to power in the state – when he allegedly asked party workers to hurl bombs at policemen and burn down houses of Independent candidates. Over a period of time, Mondal gained infamy for his provocative speeches, often issuing open threats to the police.
Though Mondal has been named in a number of cases, including for threatening people, murder and those related to sand-, stone- and cattle-smuggling, he has rarely been tried in any of these.
In the cattle smuggling case, in which Mondal has been arrested, he has been accused by the CBI of being among the TMC leaders and government officers who allegedly benefited from the proceeds of cattle smuggling.
He is also under the CBI scanner in the coal pilferage case and the post-poll violence of last year. On May 2 last year, the day of the Bengal Assembly results, BJP worker Gaurab Sarkar was beaten to death in Gopalnagar in Birbhum. As fingers pointed towards Mondal’s alleged involvement, he was questioned by the CBI. However, in a major relief to Mondal, in February, the Calcutta High Court granted him protection from coercive action by the CBI in the post-poll violence case.
Earlier this year, former Governor and now Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar had pulled up the police for allowing Mondal to use a red beacon on his vehicle.
Sources point out that if none of these cases deterred Mondal or slowed him down, it was because he had Mamata’s blessings. In 2014, during a speech in Birbhum, the CM, while accusing the BJP-led Centre of hounding her party leaders, had sympathetically said that Mondal suffers from hypoxia and can only move around with oxygen cylinders.
In February, Mondal was even included in the TMC’s national working committee, the only district-level leader in the top TMC body that’s headed by Mamata.
Mondal’s influence was also evident when he recently accompanied the CM during her Bogtui visit though his name had come up in the case in which several houses were set on fire following a TMC leader’s murder, leading to the deaths of at least 10 people, including women and children.