Calcutta, March 8: Mohammad Iqbal (Munna) has fired a shot across Trinamul bows that can either pay eventual dividends or spoil the sleep of many a leader at the top.
“Upar sey kuchh din key liye andar janey ke liye bola gaya (There were instructions from the top to go underground for a few days),” Munna said, asked why he had fled Calcutta.
The Trinamul councillor, an accused in the murder of sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury, was speaking to news channel ABP Ananda this morning from behind bars in the railway police lockup at Dehri-on-Sone in Bihar.
Munna, the chairman of borough XV of Calcutta Municipal Corporation, was not making a stray remark.
Asked who had instructed him to stay underground, Munna replied: “Leaders told me.”
Asked if he meant Trinamul leaders, he said: “Yes.”
However, the man who runs Garden Reach did not show all his cards: he did not name any names.
Munna’s warning shot coincided with suggestions that his impression was he was on his way to a “surrender”. But midway through the return trip to Howrah, he was picked up and the catch is being portrayed as a trophy.
“I had a ticket to Howrah…. I decided that I would return to Calcutta and surrender. That was when I was caught,” Munna said in reply to two questions.
Again, Munna did not reveal the most crucial information: whether someone had told him to give himself up or given him the impression that he would be given safe passage to Calcutta and allowed to surrender at a time a manhunt is supposed to have been launched for him.
The nuggets of information Munna withholds will determine how “the leaders at the top” will handle him.
If the trickle runs dry suddenly, Trinamul will hope to make the best of a situation that has landed the Mamata government in a fix.
If Munna concludes that he is being left in the lurch and decides to sing like a canary, some Trinamul loyalists are expected to take the heat in the hope that it will stand them in good stead in the future.
Such a course may insulate the top but it could end up embarrassing the chief minister’s lieutenants like Firhad (Bobby) Hakim who had gone out of their way to not only defend but also deflect attention from Munna.
The Trinamul leadership’s eagerness to earn brownie points from the arrest was evident when all-India general secretary Mukul Roy said today: “Mamata Banerjee has shown that the law takes its own course.”
Roy’s pat would have had more impact but for Munna’s claim on why he went underground in the first place.
“Now if he starts spilling the beans and names the leaders who instructed him to go underground, it would be quite an embarrassment for the party,” said a Trinamul leader on condition of anonymity.
Munna’s proximity to Hakim has already been established. Television footage had shown the councillor standing next to the urban development minister minutes after sub-inspector Chowdhury was murdered. Investigations since Munna turned a fugitive have also revealed that he had called Hakim several times on February 12, the day Harimohan Ghose College erupted over student union polls.
“I have nothing to say on this,” Hakim said this afternoon when his comment was sought on Munna’s arrest.
Some political sources felt the controversy might even help Hakim in the long run. “Bobby’s position would not be affected much…. Rather, he may be a beneficiary in the long run for taking the blow on himself, which could have otherwise affected the party or the chief minister,” said a Trinamul insider.
A retired police officer said the decisive factor would be how much Munna would choose to reveal to investigators. “Munna has already started making controversial statements…. Now if he says that he was at the spot to prevent Congress supporters from getting nomination papers for the union election, it would be a blow to Trinamul,” the veteran said.
Munna today said twice that he was not at the spot, though footage taken immediately before and after the murder showed him — first in the company of shooter Abdus Subhan and later with minister Hakim.
According to the retired officer, if at all Munna repeats the claim about the leaders during interrogation, the officers will be obliged to establish the names of those who allegedly told him to stay away.
“The question is whether he will name any minister…. Even if he doesn’t name a minister, the police can always question those who were close to him,” said the retired officer.
A senior officer, however, said an accused was seen as a “privileged liar”, meaning whatever he says during interrogation has to be presumed a lie unless the statements lead to definite evidence.
“But if a murder accused makes a confessional statement under Section 164 of the CrPC before a court and names people who had goaded him to commit the crime, the nature of the confession changes,” he added.
Vineet Goyal, special IG, CID, said in response to questions: “We will do whatever is required for the sake of proper investigation.”