SSC Scam: Govt and party not related to cash haul, says Mamata Banerjee

Bengal CM spends 20 minutes of her 34-minute address speaking about the controversy

Mamata Banerjee at a state government event in Nazrul Manch, Calcutta,  on Monday: 
Pradip Sanyal
Meghdeep Bhattacharyya   |   TT  |  Calcutta   |    26.07.22  : Mamata Banerjee on Monday ended her public silence on the arrest of her cabinet colleague Partha Chatterjee with remarks that could be construed as the chief minister’s intention to wash her hands off the controversy surrounding the Trinamul Congress secretary-general.

The Bengal chief minister, during a state government event in the evening, broached the subject — amid intense speculation over her conspicuous silence on the raging controversy — and spent 20 minutes of her 34-minute address on it.

“I cannot say that everyone is a saint. There are some saints with demons inside them. I cannot say that everybody will act in hundred per cent correctness. Till date, I have not done anything wrong knowingly…. I want time-bound justice, for the truth. If, in that truth, somebody is proven guilty, even if that person is given life imprisonment, I don’t mind,” said Mamata, in a clear reference to Trinamul secretary-general Chatterjee, one of her oldest aides who is believed to be the Number Two in her cabinet.

“If anything is proved, it is their responsibility…. We will not interfere, nor support in any way whatsoever, saying this clearly. The government or the party are not related to this, or that woman (Arpiuta Mukheree, a purported associate of Chatterjee, who has also been arrested).”

The state government event at the Nazrul Manch was her first public appearance since the Enforcement Directorate’s arrest of Chatterjee. Neither she nor her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, the party’s national general-secretary, had said anything about the Trinamul heavyweight’s arrest till Monday afternoon.

Sources said Mamata was in favour of watching and waiting for a decisive outcome before taking a definite stand on Chatterjee, but she decided to break her silence as the Opposition had been dragging her name into it and even linking her with Arpita.

About 14 minutes into her address, Mamata brought up the matter, eventually apologising to the dignitaries and the audience for politicising her address. The chief minister said had she not done so, she would have been accused of fear.

“Some are bringing up something, a woman-related matter. I have great respect for women, not everybody is the same. Some money was recovered. I will not comment as it is a sub judice matter,” she said.

“I will not be a part of the media trial that is going on, because I still don’t know how it all panned out… I don’t know what foul play there might have been. Before the kid is born, the first rice ceremony is being finalised. It has to be seen whether they were trapped, people are trapped at times,” added Mamata. “We want a fast-track court to probe the matter, within three months. The CBI takes decades in its probes, but cannot deliver justice.”

She then brought up the alleged scam in the hiring of teachers, which is being investigated by central agencies under the judiciary’s instructions. Chatterjee was the education minister when the “scam” took place.

“In what job, tell me, one out of 100 jobs or so is not given to their own people? Over one lakh people have got jobs, and if there are 200 complaints, what about the one lakh job-getters? They will be rendered jobless,” she said, going on to ask why Chatterjee had to be taken to the AIIMS in Bhubaneswar, despite Calcutta having SSKM and numerous other top-tier hospitals.

Mamata attacked the BJP and the CPM over their questions on her personal probity.

“I believe politics is about sacrifice, politics is about serving the country, loving the people…. Throughout my life, I have been against corruption. But tell me, is every single student in a school exactly the same as the others? Is everyone here wearing the same clothes? There will be differences. The same tree does not produce bananas and apples,” she said.

“I do not support injustice, it is neither my passion, nor my profession. Over the past 11 years, I am eligible for a lakh in parliamentary pension, and another two lakh for being an MLA and chief minister. However, I have not taken a single paisa, and all my services are voluntary…. But tell me why a mountain of money is being shown with my picture, in a malicious campaign by the CPM and the BJP, across Calcutta. Such is their audacity. Had I not been in politics, I could have cut their tongues out today,” said the visibly furious chief minister.

“People might ask how I get the money, the answer is I write books, I work hard. I have authored over 120 books, and I create music… where I get royalty from. The kind of money I make from my book royalties, a lot of people don’t. Because a lot of my books are bestsellers. What can I do?”

Mamata demanded answers from the BJP over circulation of purported videos and pictures of her, on various occasions, with Arpita Mukherjee, from whose flat the cash haul was found.

“The Durga Puja organisers invite people on the dais, I do not know them. What can I do… stop walking on the roads, stop going out, visiting people?” asked the chief minister.

“I went to a pandal, a woman was standing there, she was supposedly Partha’s friend. Am I a god, that I will know who is whose friend? Very difficult,” she added. “If that is the case, then what about Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, who were seen in photos (with Prime Minister Narendra Modi)? What about the PM-Cares Fund and the lakhs of crores therein?”

She went on to accuse the BJP of trying to divert attention from the “grand success” of her party’s marquee event on July 21, which took place offline after two years and was attended by lakhs in the city.

“They sent ED officials the very next day, at 5am to conduct these raids,” she said.

“If anyone is guilty, Trinamul will never spare them. I never spare MLAs, MPs, even ministers, if they do something wrong, always remember. But if you try to throw ink at me for no reason, remember, I am holding tar… which cannot be washed off in your machines,” added Mamata, going on to accuse the BJP of trying to break her party by having its leaders hounded by central agencies, daring it to succeed.

Mamata challenged the BJP to try and replicate the Maharashtra model to topple her government in Bengal, accusing the party of setting its sights on Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand as well, for the exercise.

“If you think you will use this to malign me, remember a wounded lion is dangerous. In 2021, you brought your whole (central) government against me, you broke my leg. Even then, in a wheelchair, I showed you what we are capable of. I have never bowed my head and will only bow my head to the public,” she said.

“If you touch me, I know how to detach you. I know how to fight it out. I know if there is a will, there is a way. I have that will,” added the chief minister.

Through the speech, she kept revisiting her disbelief that Chatterjee could have done what he was being accused of.

“Whether it happened at all or whether it was staged, I hope the judiciary will be able to ascertain, without listening to the BJP. What the judiciary says, correctly, our party will accept. Because our party is very transparent, built on ideology,” she said.

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