Calcutta, Feb. 16: The Garden Reach shooting has cost Firhad Hakim his unofficial role as the Bengal government’s spokesperson — a nebulous post that has become a fallible tea leaf to measure an aide’s ups and downs in Mamata Banerjee’s eyes.
But Hakim retains his berth as urban development and municipal affairs minister, a status, the governor said this afternoon, that should be decided by the chief minister.
Trinamul insiders projected the stripping of the spokesperson’s role as a sign of Hakim’s clipped wings for misleading the chief minister on the murder of sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury. But they did not explain why the Trinamul leadership overruled the police commissioner even after being briefed by him on what happened at Garden Reach on Tuesday.
The spokesperson’s post in Bengal has become something of a painless but risky weather-wane that shows which way the wind is blowing in the chief minister’s scheme of things — akin to communist regimes’ seating arrangements that were once the sole clue to decipher power equations.
In December, Mamata had picked Hakim and panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee to represent the government before the media. Mukherjee was dropped after his attack on governor M.K. Narayanan following the Arabul Islam controversy last month and Partha Chatterjee was inducted in the team.
A Trinamul insider said Mamata personally conveyed to Hakim the decision on his role as spokesperson when he met her at her Kalighat residence.
“Spokespersons were never officially appointed. Mamatadi takes the decision and conveys it to the people concerned. This is how it had happened in the past and has happened now,” a Trinamul general secretary said.
Hakim had blamed a Congress activist for the firing and had tried to shield Trinamul councillor Mohammad Iqbal, alias Munna, from possible police action despite his name featuring in an FIR.
A Trinamul minister said the chief minister was “extremely unhappy” with Hakim for landing the government in trouble. “First, he briefed her wrongly as he put the onus of the firing on Mukhtar. Then, Hakim publicly said no further arrests were required even as TV channels flashed footage of Iqbal instigating the mob,” he said.
The source said Hakim had been asked to stay away from campaigning for the Assembly bypolls on February 23. “He was supposed to be the main speaker at the minority-dominated Rejinagar constituency,” a Trinamul MP said.
But Hakim shared the stage with Mamata this evening at Maharashtra Niwas at a programme organised by youth affairs minister Aroop Biswas. Earlier in the day, he attended a party meeting near Garia with Trinamul state president Subrata Bakshi.
Asked this afternoon if Hakim should continue as minister, the governor said: “Firhad Hakim is a cabinet minister and it is for the chief minister to decide.”