West Bengal commerce and industry minister and senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, Partha Chatterjee, who was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) Saturday for his alleged involvement in the teacher recruitment scam in the state School Service Commission (SSC), has been one of the most trusted lieutenants of Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee.
Apart from being a heavyweight minister handling various key portfolios, Chatterjee is also the TMC secretary general — the most important party role after the position of party chief Mamata Banerjee and her nephew and party national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
One of the most prominent TMC faces in Kolkata, the five-time MLA from the city’s Behala Paschim Assembly constituency, Chatterjee, 69, has been Mamata’s “go to” leader when it comes to dealing with the Bengal organisational affairs. From the constitution of the TMC district committees to working out election strategies, Chatterjee plays an important role in the entire spectrum of organisational matters. He is also a member of the party’s disciplinary committee.
Chatterjee had worked as an HR professional with Andrew Yule before foraying into politics several decades ago. After Mamata quit the Congress and formed the TMC in 1998, he joined her party. On the TMC ticket he was elected as an MLA for the first time in 2001 from Behala Paschim and has been continuously winning from the seat since then. He was the Leader of the Opposition in the Bengal Assembly from 2006 to 2011 during the tenure of the erstwhile CPM-led Left Front government.
When the TMC ousted the 34-year-old Left dispensation from power in Bengal in 2011 and formed its government, Chatterjee, who won the election by a margin of 59,021 votes, was inducted into her cabinet by Mamata and was given the portfolios of commerce and industry, public enterprises, information technology and electronics and parliamentary affairs. He was then also nominated as the Deputy Leader of the House.
In 2014, Chatterjee was appointed as the minister-in-charge of higher education and school education — the portfolio at the heart of the SSC scam, which he held till 2021, when he was replaced with another minister Bratya Basu. After Mamata took over as the CM for the third consecutive time after the TMC’s triumph in 2021 Assembly polls, she again allocated the portfolios of commerce and industry, information technology and electronics to Chatterjee.
It was during Chatterjee’s tenure as the state education minister that the alleged teacher recruitment scam in the SSC and the Primary Education Board took place. He faces corruption charges for having allegedly ensured in exchange for money jobs for candidates with lower marks rather than those making it to the merit lists.
Following the Calcutta High Court’s decision ordering a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the SSC scam, Chatterjee on May 18 appeared before the central agency for questioning in connection with alleged illegal appointments of teachers in government schools after he failed to get relief from the court.