Ritabrata Banerjee, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP, has landed in a controversy after being photographed with a Mont Blanc pen and an Apple smartwatch during a football match in West Bengal that raised questions about his “expensive lifestyle”.
It all started after Sumit Talukdar, who reportedly works for a “Bengaluru-based start-up”, posted photographs of Banerjee on social media pointing at the pen jutting out of the MP’s pocket and his watch during the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan Derby faceoff in Siliguri on January 12.
Talukdar questioned the source of his luxury pen and watch - symbols of an ostentatious lifestyle that the party members are supposed to refrain from. He asked how could a CPI(M) parliamentarian, who gets a monthly wage of Rs 6000 from the party, afford the expensive items that cost around Rs 80,000. The post even mentioned the model of the Mont Blanc pen.
As the post went viral, Banerjee sent a mail to Talukdar’s company’s human resources department seeking action against him.
“I am not going to talk to the media at all,” he told Hindustan Times when asked about the details of the email.
He, however, did not deny sending the mail in which he talked of filing a complaint against Talukdar with the Delhi Police, a threat he subsequently withdrew apparently under pressure from CPI(M) central leaders, including party general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
Talukdar, who has at least one Facebook profile and three Twitter accounts, did not respond to the messages sent by HT.
While both Banerjee and Talukdar deleted the controversial posts, it was how the episode unfolded on social media that has raised eyebrows and questions. And as the left party is all set to pull up its youngest Rajya Sabha MP for threatening Talukdar, the cyber war has also exposed the differences between established hierarchy and emerging ranks.
“I will not comment on this,” Banerjee told HT when asked whether the CPI(M) has asked for his explanation.
However, he reportedly told his associates that he was a victim of a conspiracy.
Senior CPI-M leaders HT talked to made it apparent that Banerjee had earned the wrath of the young and even some old party members because of his lifestyle - a sensitive issue for a party that is trying to shed “acquired bourgeois vices” through reforms.
Some even claimed that Banerjee no longer enjoys the support of former Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is known to have strongly backed his nomination to the Upper House.
However, the email that Banerjee sent to Talukdar’s employer from his iPhone came into the possession of a man, who identifies himself as Subrata Mondal on Facebook and has several CPI-M members on his friend list.
Mondal posted a screenshot of Banerjee’s email on his Facebook page but masked Talukdar’s name and the company he reportedly works for. Mondal’s timeline carried the screenshot of Banerjee’s email till Monday night along with his comments.
“A Communist party whole-timer supposedly depositing his monthly salary to the party account, as per the CPI-M constitution, and getting a monthly wage of around Rs 6000 from the Party is known for his extravagant and upscale lifestyle, something that on-lookers say only millionaires can afford,” Mondal wrote.
“Some cheerleaders of the MP argued that it is not compulsory for a communist to lead a modest lifestyle. But the bigger and only question was what exactly has been the source of his funds?” Mondal added in the post in which a few CPI(M) members from Bengal were also tagged.
Banerjee is likely to face action when the party’s Bengal state committee meets on Wednesday.