A day after fiery interview, Bengal CPI(M) moves to expel RS MP Ritabrata Banerjee | kolkata | Hindustan Times
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A day after fiery interview, Bengal CPI(M) moves to expel RS MP Ritabrata Banerjee

The 38-year-old parliamentarian had been taking potshots at the party leadership, going so far as to accuse it of being anti-Bengali, ever since he was charged with leading a flashy lifestyle and possessing wealth disproportionate to his income a few months ago.

kolkata Updated: Sep 13, 2017 18:25 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji and Tanmay Chatterjee
RItabrata Banerjee is believed to have been contacted both by the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.
RItabrata Banerjee is believed to have been contacted both by the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.(HT Photo)

The Bengal unit of the CPI(M) decided to expel Rajya Sabha MP Ritabrata Banerjee for disciplinary reasons on Wednesday, despite the fact that the party has just nine members in the Upper House.

The 38-year-old parliamentarian had been taking potshots at the party leadership, going so far as to accuse it of being anti-Bengali, ever since he was charged with leading a flashy lifestyle and possessing wealth disproportionate to his income a few months ago. He also targeted politburo member Md Salim for allegedly maligning his image.

As Banerjee is a sitting member of Parliament, the decision of the West Bengal state secretariat will have to be endorsed by the CPI(M)’s central committee, the highest executive body of the party, when it meets from October 14 to 15 in Delhi. A source said there was a high possibility of the panel going ahead with the expulsion.

“There is also a chance that the party will not wait for the central committee to meet in October (to endorse the expulsion), because that would mean stretching the issue for too long. The politburo of the CPI(M) is empowered to endorse any decision of the Bengal state secretariat and make a formal announcement. That may be done any day now,” said a senior central committee member.

The rebel party leader had launched a counter-offensive against the party after his bank statements were “illegally” downloaded to build a case against him. He shot off several letters to party chief Sitaram Yechury and other leaders in this regard. “Someone has to bell the cat. In one of the meetings of the party’s disciplinary cell, they produced my bank statement for the last three months. I was shocked. How could they access my bank account without my permission?” Banerjee asked HT.

Banerjee is the sixth prominent party leader from Bengal likely to face the axe for disciplinary reasons in the recent past. Others in the list include Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, state land reforms minister Rezzak Mollah, and former parliamentarians Anil Basu and Lakshman Seth.

Following his expulsion, Banerjee will be a ‘free’ lawmaker who won’t be bound by party whips or directives. While such a step would further deplete the CPI(M)’s strength in Parliament, sources close to Banerjee say he may also start picking on the party and supporting the NDA on key bills and issues.

“As a young MP, he has to think about his political future. It’s clear that the CPI(M) no longer has a place for him,” said a source.

A photograph posted on social media shows the CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP with his Apple watch and Mont Blanc pen circled in red. (Facebook)

Banerjee has been wading from one controversy to another since February, when a junior party member criticised him for flashing his Mont Blanc pen and Apple watch in a photograph. The parliamentarian responded by asking the person’s company management to take punitive action against him, leading to an uproar in party circles.

In a television interview telecast on Monday evening, Banerjee accused the CPI(M) leadership of being “anti-Bengali” and alleged that politburo members Prakash and Brinda Karat had blocked general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s return to the Rajya Sabha. The MP also said that Salim had bagged a place in the party’s highest body solely because it has a quota for Muslims, and accused the politburo member and his son of spearheading a social media campaign to malign him.

Incidentally, Salim had headed the panel constituted to probe the charges against Banerjee.

A central committee member described Banerjee’s actions as a gross violation of party discipline. “The CPI(M) simply could not allow this. We are also supposed to take a formal decision on a report submitted by a three-member inquiry committee that earlier found him guilty of having wealth disproportionate to his income and leading a life that communist parties don’t permit,” a central committee member told HT.

Banerjee, for his part, sounded shell-shocked by the news of the state unit’s decision. “It’s like a blood relation (has cut off ties with me). I can’t describe the pain (I have been in) since I heard about the decision. I can’t talk,” he told HT, choking on his words.

The party suspended the parliamentarian for three months on June 2, following complaints that he has been leading a lavish lifestyle – complete with romantic liaisons – and leaking party secrets to the media.

On August 8, the Bengal CPI(M) recommended his removal from the state committee after a three-member committee found some of the charges to be true. This infuriated Banerjee, who began taking potshots at a section of the party leadership on the social media.

Banerjee was close to former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who recommended his name for the post of Rajya Sabha MP in 2014.