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In Madan Mitra, Mamata Banerjee finds her weakest comrade

TMC leader Madan Mitra went to town with his newfound Saradha wealth and ended up in jail. But is he the biggest loser?

india Updated: Feb 12, 2015 07:51 IST
Madan Mitra,Saradha scam,Congress

Is Madan Gopal Mitra – the middle name was dropped later in his life as it didn’t sound smart enough for the upper middleclass Bhawanipore from where he comes – seen as the weakest of the lieutenants that Mamata Banerjee gathered around her while forming the TMC in 1998?

The answer is, overwhelmingly, yes. For, Mitra is not the typical crafty and secretive politician that people are used to. Rather, he is quite open about his love for good food, drinks and the other attractions of life like some of his co-mortals. And there lies his weakness as an aide of the Trinamool Congress chief, who is famously one-dimensional.

Mitra’s weaknesses, in fact, had always been seen indulgently by his party – read: His party chief – and the people around him. It’s refreshing to have a leader, who tries to help everybody and never thinks about the politics of the recipient. The swagger was always there, which helped create his own brand.

In fact, Mitra’s attitude came from his Bonedi (traditional) family wealth. At a very young age, he joined the family transport business and owned a couple of taxis. Later, he joined United India Insurance Company from where he took voluntary retirement in 2004 as an assistant divisional manager. “Despite his upper middle class background, we have often seen Madan driving his own taxi. We have also seen him leading youths from local clubs to evict slum dwellers or tenants for money. He controlled the local clubs,” said Sambhunath Mukherjee, a neighbour.

But Saradha was different. Mitra was a regular visitor to the office of the Saradha boss, Sudipta Sen. He is even known to have frequent meetings with Sen and his associates at the city’s star hotels. His associates during these meets included former journo Kunal Ghosh – also an employee of Sen – who first named Mitra in the conspiracy.

The scam involved the savings of more than 18 lakh poor people and more than Rs. 25,000 crore traced so far. A minister living life king size with proceeds of the Saradha crime – spending about Rs. 3 crore to get his son married – while more than 100 people committed suicide was hardly palatable. “Mitra is whimsical and of late has become greedy,” Mukherjee said.

But Mitra is yet to come out of his spoilt brat image – he refuses to get into a prison van and demands a police SUV to go to the court, refuses to eat the food served to the inmates and gets his living quarters done up to live well. For, the chief minister has not yet accepted his resignation. He is still a minister.

State BJP president Rahul Sinha said: “The chief minister did not accept his resignation only to ensure that he does not reveal everything he knows to the CBI.”

The obvious image of a soft politician – not tough enough to protect himself and his party – was further strengthened when he refused to stay alone in a cell. And the CBI sleuths smelt an opportunity.

No one knows whether Mitra has already sung. But his distressed expression, when compared with the party’s all India general secretary Mukul Roy’s cool demeanour, has not generated much confidence among his comrades. Banerjee is also worried and tried to save him through different forms of power shows.

How was the myth of Madan Mitra created? Born into a politically connected and a business family, Mitra joined the Chhatra Parishad, the Congress students’ wing, in 1973 as a student of a south Kolkata college and eventually came close to former Union minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.

Interestingly, during his Congress stint, Mitra followed the Dasmunsi camp, a rival of Banerjee. Nirbed Roy, a Congress veteran, said, “Both joined the Youth Congress in the early 1980s. But having been in rival camps, they challenged each other on several occasions.”

It all changed in 1998 when Banerjee formed TMC and Mitra switched sides to join her. Though he was never a shrewd politician or an astute decision maker, he was a mass leader, who always supplied his ‘men’ to sort out problems inside a polling booth or to take control of a booth whenever required.

First Published: Feb 11, 2015 22:58 IST