State urban development minister Firhad Hakim at Keoratola on Sunday afternoon to attend the cremation of Trinamul Congress councillor Ranajit Seal’s son Abhijit, who succumbed to injuries he had sustained in an explosion on Monday night while allegedly making bombs at Garden Reach. The explosion was the first flashpoint in the violence that culminated in the murder of special branch sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury outside Harimohan Ghose College on Tuesday morning. Trinamul leaders Madan Mitra and Subrata Bakshi also attended the cremation. A Telegraph picture
Trinamul Congress MP Saugata Roy said on Sunday that state urban development minister Firhad Hakim was “in no way connected” to the Garden Reach violence.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a programme at Mahajati Sadan, Roy said: “I believe Bobby is in no way connected to it (the Garden Reach incident). His name has been intentionally dragged into it.”
When it was pointed out that governor M.K. Narayanan had criticised Hakim’s alleged role in the incident, Roy, an adviser to the Bengal government on industry, said: “Our governor is a very senior person. He knows very well that who all are going to be there in the ministry is entirely the business of the chief minister. That’s why I do not believe that he will ever say anything like that. Words are being put in his mouth.”
Asked about the urban development minister’s alleged role in protecting Mohammad Iqbal, the governor had said on Thursday: “If he is doing so, he has no business doing it.”
Iqbal, a Trinamul councillor and chairman of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s borough XV, has been accused by the police of instigating mob violence that resulted in police sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury being shot dead outside Harimohan Ghose College at Garden Reach on Tuesday.
Minutes after the firing, the minister, who had been elected from the area, named a Congress activist as the shooter and Iqbal as the target. The slain officer, according to him, died while trying to save Iqbal, who was seen standing next to the minister in TV footage.
Later, Hakim said at Writers’ Buildings that Iqbal was not connected with the incident and no further arrests were needed in connection with the case.
According to senior police officers, the minister tried to make them frame the FIR in such a way that Iqbal looked like the target.
The police, for once, ignored the command from their political bosses and named Iqbal as an accused.
As allegations mounted against Hakim, the government had tried to give the impression that he was being removed as the official government spokesperson. However, since a government spokesperson is not formally appointed, he or she cannot be removed.
When Roy was asked why Hakim was removed from the spokesperson’s post if he and his party believed he was not connected with the incident, the MP responded: “Who told you that he has been removed? Can you show me papers stating that? These are stories concocted by the media.”
Currently, leaders get anointed as spokespersons at Writers’ depending on their closeness to Mamata Banerjee.
“Selection of a government spokesperson is like a game of musical chairs. Three or four senior ministers are given that post and stripped of it at regular intervals. Partha Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee became spokespersons and then ceased to be so several times in the past year and a half,” said BJP state president Rahul Sinha.
Panchayat and public health engineering minister Subrata Mukherjee had been the spokesperson till he said the “governor had been shown the yellow card” for his “goondaism” comments after the Bhangar clashes in early January.
“The government’s image is getting tarnished every day. If it is really keen on taking action against Bobby Hakim, it should strip him of his ministerial responsibilities. Taking away the role of a spokesperson, that too without any official declaration, is not going to help,” added Sinha.
Trinamul insiders pointed to a reason behind Roy backing Hakim on Sunday. The two of them go back a long way: Roy was a Congress MLA from Alipore in the mid-1990s when Hakim was an emerging leader from the Chetla area. Roy would visit the Kali puja organised by Hakim and the two were seen together on several occasions. The relationship continued even after Hakim quit Congress and joined Trinamul in 1998. Roy moved to Trinamul a few years later.
When Roy was the minister of state for urban development in the UPA II government, his counterpart in Bengal would regularly visit him in Delhi to channel JNNURM funds.
“Congress and Trinamul have a unique tradition in south Calcutta. The leaders might not see eye to eye with each other but the moment one of them is in trouble, his colleagues would support him no matter what,” said a party insider.
There are seven ministers, including the chief minister, from south Calcutta in the Mamata Banerjee government. Roy was elected from Dum Dum but has lived and operated from south Calcutta for decades.