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Newsmakers | Bengal ministers in ‘SSC scam’ spotlight: Mamata’s trusted lieutenant & a former Left leader

Partha Chatterjee was the minister of education when most of the alleged irregularities occurred while Paresh Adhikari is facing questions about his daughter’s appointment.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: May 19, 2022 8:26:01 pm
Partha Chatterjee and Paresh Adhikari. (File)

Two ministers in the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led government, Partha Chatterjee and Paresh Adhikari, are now under the scanner in connection with alleged irregularities in the state School Service Commission’s (SSC) appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff in state government and government-aided schools between 2014 and 2021.

Chatterjee, now the Industries and Parliamentary Affairs, was the state education minister when most of the alleged irregularities occurred. He appeared before the CBI on Wednesday after failing to get relief from the High Court. Adhikari, who switched over from the Forward Bloc to the TMC in 2018, is now the Minister of State for Education. The Calcutta High Court earlier this week asked Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to immediately suspend Adhikari and ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into his daughter Ankita’s appointment as a teacher in a government-aided school even though she scored less than complainant Babita Sarkar, did not figure in the 2016 SSC panel merit list, and did not appear for a personality test. The minister has challenged the order of the single-judge Bench of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay before a Division Bench.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday defended her ministerial colleagues. “They (Opposition) are now talking big. During the rule of the CPI(M), appointments were made through chits of paper. Transfers were made through paper chits. This happened during their rule of 34 years. I showed courtesy for so long by keeping silent. But I will open those chapters now. If someone commits a mistake while working, one should be given a chance to rectify it. Law should be allowed to take its course,” Banerjee said at a meeting of grassroots and booth workers in Jhargram.

TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “An individual may have done something wrong. That is subject to an investigation. But for that, one cannot hold the entire government responsible.”

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Partha Chatterjee

One of Mamata Banerjee’s trusted lieutenants and the TMC’s chief crisis manager, the 69-year-old minister started his political career in Ashutosh College in the early 1970s with the Chhatra Parishad, the students’ wing of the Congress. The CM was also a Chhatra Parishad leader at the time.

But after completing his studies, Chatterjee did not pursue politics. He became a top executive in the human resources department of Andrew Yule and Company and after almost two decades took voluntary retirement to join Banerjee as she floated the TMC in 1998. At the time, he was one of Banerjee’s top three lieutenants along with Mukul Roy and Subrata Bakshi.

Chatterjee was elected to the state Assembly from Behala West in 2001 and became the Leader of the Opposition five years later after being re-elected from the same constituency. In 2011, he won by 59,021 votes and became a Cabinet minister in the first TMC government. He was allotted the portfolios of commerce and industry, public enterprises, information technology, and parliamentary affairs. He also became the deputy leader of the House.

Two years later, Chatterjee faced a crisis when he lost the industry portfolio after it became apparent that the state administration would not be able to divest its 40 per cent stake in Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd because of a spat between the co-promoters of the polymer manufacturer.

Former West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee arrives to appear before the CBI for questioning in connection to the alleged irregularities in the School Service Commission (SSC) recruitment in the state. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

But he was back in the CM’s good books after the 2016 Assembly elections and became the state Education Minister. After the TMC’s poor performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state’s Jangalmahal area, Chatterjee negotiated with Chhatradhar Mahato who had led an anti-land acquisition movement in Lalgarh in 2009. Mahato spent 10 years in prison in a sedition case and got out of prison in 2020. Mahato ended up joining the TMC and with his help, the ruling party regained its dominance in Jhargram district in last year’s state polls.

Paresh Adhikari

The 69-year-old minister from Mekliganj in north Bengal’s Coochbehar district was earlier with the Forward Bloc and had close ties to the Left party’s stalwart leader Kamal Guha. He was elected MLA for the first time in 1991 after winning on a Forward Bloc ticket from Mekligunj. Although he lost the 1996 Assembly election from the seat, he won the next two elections from there and served as the Minister of State for Food in the Left Front government from 2006 to 2011. He got elected to the Assembly in 2011 too despite a pro-Mamata wave across the state. But with the TMC looking to increase its footprint in the north, Adhikari joined the ruling party in 2018.

Paresh Adhikari at Nizam palace. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

The following year, Adhikari got a Lok Sabha ticket from Coochbehar but lost to the BJP’s Nisith Pramanik. Last year, he won the state elections from Mekliganj again and was inducted into the state Cabinet as Minister of State for School Education.

A senior TMC leader in north Bengal said, “He was a known corrupt leader and we always opposed his inclusion in our party. But, he was included and got an Assembly poll ticket despite his defeat in the Lok Sabha election.”

Hitting out at Adhikari, Forward Bloc leader Naren Chatterjee told The Indian Express, “Now, it has been proved that Udayan Guha, Paresh Adhikari and other leaders who defected from the Forward Bloc to the TMC did not change the party for ideology rather for their interests.”

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