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Mamata rules, mayor retreats

Calcutta, June 10: A day after allowing Mayor Subrata Mukherjee to sack the mayoral council packed with her loyalists, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee — in lawyer’s robes — did a complete somersault.

She forced the mayor to reinstate Monday’s sacked seven, against whom action was taken for allegedly assaulting municipal commissioner Debasis Som.

“They will be back again as members of the mayor’s council tomorrow,” she said at her Kalighat home late this evening.

All seven will take oath at 11 am in the mayor’s office and will be back at work. And Mukherjee, with a team, will fly off to Naples in the evening, as scheduled.

Mamata used the arrest of six of the council members in the morning, on the basis of a complaint filed by Som, as the excuse for her turnaround. The seventh surrendered.

“We took a major administrative decision last night by authorising Subrata-da to remove the council members. But the manner in which they were harassed and insulted during the day in police custody is unthinkable. They are not criminals,” she said.

Police action began after the government greenlighted the mayor’s recommendation for disciplinary action.

By turning up in court in her lawyer’s avatar, Mamata had sent out a clear signal that she stood beside the seven.

But the script for the mayor’s capitulation was written at a four-hour meeting that took place at the residence of Sovan Chatterjee, a former member of the council and a trusted aide of Mukherjee. On Mamata’s instruction, Subrata Bakshi, the Trinamul president, had already investigated the circumstances that led to the alleged assault and the mayor’s action. Mamata cited the findings of Bakshi’s report prepared from interviews with councillors and party functionaries to push through the case of the sacked members.

Sources said mayor Mukherjee forsook his tough line and “virtually surrendered” after Mamata expressed her intention to step up the party’s attack on him in view of the police action.

“We also conveyed to him (Mukherjee) Trinamul’s hurt and displeasure at his pampering of Som. We have told him that we would expect him to address the Som issue in light of the party’s sentiments,” they said.

The mayor was allowed a small concession in the form of a right to shuffle the portfolios of the members, they added. But it was made clear that Mamata would step in if she sniffed any trick in the shuffle, if at all it takes place.

What looked like the mayor’s victory on Monday turned into Mukherjee’s meek surrender when Mamata realised that she might lose her grip on the party if she did not rise against the arrest of her loyalists. “Some people, in collusion with the ruling CPM, have blown out of proportion Monday’s incident in which Som is said to have been assaulted. I say the exaggeration has been done deliberately to malign my party,” Mamata said.

“Make no mistake, Som has to go. He is an agent of the CPM, and I shall not allow someone like him to besmirch my party members by taking recourse to theatrics.”

The government, however, was in no mood to remove Som. Ashok Bhattacharya, the municipal affairs minister, suggested as much.

At the CMC headquarters, Trinamul councillors staged a day-long sit-in outside the offices of the mayor and the commissioner, forcing Som to remain confined in his chamber for hours.

The mayor did not turn up, busy as he was attending to his mother who had suffered a nasty fall, broken her arm and had to be shifted to a clinic.

Mamata’s plot during the day unfolded in three parts: in packed Bankshal court, she appeared donning the regulation black robe to move the bail petitions of the arrested members; outside, the party was baying for Mukherjee’s blood and finally, his surrender at the meeting.

At no point did she condemn the sacked members, though Mukherjee continued to claim Mamata had blessed his action.

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