Bishnupur, Feb. 18: Bobby has been told to finish it fast, Mamata Banerjee declared today, referring as much to a flyover as to the flight path of the minister whose wings were supposed to have been clipped.
“Construction of the flyover near Bridge No. 4 is going on and on. I have told Bobby to finish it fast,” Mamata told a rally at Bishnupur in South 24-Parganas.
Bobby is Firhad Hakim, the urban development minister at the centre of the Garden Reach mess after a police officer was shot dead there last week.
Bishnupur’s connection with the flyover coming up on the EM Bypass was somewhat stretched but something else was more apparent: Mamata is standing by Hakim.
The comment signalled that Hakim will remain in the cabinet and he continues to be her trusted aide, despite his attempts to protect borough chairman Mohammed Iqbal (Munna) who is absconding now.
Told about Mamata’s confidence-reposing assignment, Hakim told The Telegraph tonight: “The chief minister has realised what is what. She is now convinced that I had been misled.”
This is probably the first time the minister is saying that he had been misled, suggesting that he was accepting his initial claims blaming the Opposition and backing Munna cannot be defended.
Mamata’s eagerness to protect the flock is largely a hallmark of personality-driven organisations led by an “infallible” leader who draws a sense of invincibility from unflinching loyalty.
Trinamul leaders won’t say so in as many words but they came close. “Firhad has been loyal to Mamata and obeys every word of hers,” a Trinamul leader said. “The chief minister would have at most reprimanded him but he is certain to stay on in the ministry, which is what counts.”
The chief minister also did not prevent Hakim from attending the funeral of Abhijit Seal, son of Trinamul councillor Ranajit Seal, who succumbed to injuries suffered while allegedly making bombs at Garden Reach. The explosion at night was the first loud sign of trouble that culminated in the murder of the police officer a few hours later.
“Many senior party leaders attended the funeral yesterday,” a minister said. “This they would not have done without clearance from the chief minister. She would not have given her go-ahead to Hakim to attend the funeral where several senior party leaders were present if he had fallen from grace.”
On Saturday, suggestions were made that Hakim’s “wings were clipped” by removing him as the government spokesperson — an unofficial assignment whose loss is unlikely to cause any distress.
A minister said that on Saturday, too, Hakim had attended a closed-door Trinamul event at Maharashtra Niwas where Mamata was present. “Obviously, he would not have been there had Mamata not wanted him to be present,” he pointed out.
However, Trinamul leaders said, in keeping with the advice by the chief minister to keep a low profile, Hakim did not accompany Mamata to Bishnupur where he had been invited as a guest. Hakim, however, did reach Nalhati in Birbhum tonight where he has been made a Trinamul election observer to a bypoll.
Without referring to the Garden Reach incident, Mamata said at Bishnupur today: “Every time something happens, attempts are being made to turn a non-issue into an issue. If something happens, we take action. Show me one action that was taken during the 34 years of Left rule.”
Veteran officials underlined the differences in the approach between the Mamata government and the previous Left Front government while dealing with crisis situations.
The Left Front government had initially drawn flak for its slow response in the Rizwanur Rahman case. Sensing the public mood, Mamata’s predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee removed the then city police commissioners and four other officers and allowed the probe to take its own course.
After the Garden Reach controversy, Mamata reacted by removing city police commissioner R.K. Pachnanda and in an unprecedented step handed over the murder probe to CID from the Calcutta Police’s detective department.
“It was the opposite to what the previous government had done,” an official said. “In the Garden Reach case, the chief minister removed a police commissioner who was trying to bring the guilty to book and he was punished for it.”
Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra today demanded a CBI probe into the Garden Reach incident.
“Like in the Gurap (the home where mentally challenged inmates were abused and murdered) case, we are demanding a CBI probe into Garden Reach because the chief minister and an important minister are involved. If the police commissioner was removed for delay in taking action, the chief minister is also responsible since she acted almost 50 hours after the incident to protect the guilty,” Mishra said.
He added: “A minister who is close to her went to the spot and issued statements which were incongruous to the police’s finding and television footage.”