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Partha loses voice, too

Partha Chatterjee

Calcutta, May 8: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today said “only” she and finance minister Amit Mitra would speak on the government’s proposed social security scheme, the move seen by many in Trinamul as a step to further clip the wings of industries minister Partha Chatterjee.

“Please remember, no one else other than me and the finance minister will speak on this issue as it is very sensitive,” Mamata said while announcing the government’s plans to seek public opinion on the savings scheme to provide social security.

Today’s move comes within days of the chief minister deciding to take charge of the core industry committee earlier headed by Chatterjee. The first meeting of the panel that was set up to interact with industry captains was held today at Writers’ Buildings.

The industries minister was not present when Mamata came out of her chambers with Mitra and chief secretary Sanjay Mitra to announce her plan about the savings scheme.

Approached shortly after the announcement, Chatterjee refused to answer questions on either the scheme or the Saradha default.

“Don’t ask me anything on this. Ask the chief minister or the finance minister. This is not my subject. I did not hold meetings with the Reserve Bank of India. I have said all that I had to in the last few days,” Chatterjee told journalists.

Since the default crisis broke in mid-April, Chatterjee had been speaking on behalf of the government and Trinamul, addressing the media at Writers’ and Trinamul Bhavan.

But now, Trinamul leaders said, Mamata wanted to restrict the number of speakers to avoid contradictions that could embarrass the government and the party.

“Chatterjee had taken a pro-active role after the default broke. He went to the extent of saying that action would be taken against those guilty, cutting across party lines. This probably did not go down well with the leadership,” a Trinamul MP said.

He added: “The finance minister is not known for going public with his views. He is yet to speak on the default crisis. If nobody is there to speak on the subject, it will come in handy for Mamata.”

Names of a number of Trinamul MPs, MLAs and ministers have cropped up in the crisis precipitated by the Saradha Group. Despite the clamour for heads to roll, Mamata is yet to take any explicit action against leaders who have had connections with deposit-mobilising companies.

However, some Trinamul leaders have been pointing to the absence of some leaders at public events or changes in the pecking order while speaking from the dais as signs of undeclared punishment.

Within hours of Mamata announcing the scheme, Chatterjee issued instructions to officials in all the departments he heads regarding invitations to events.

“Any company or group that invites the minister has to give in writing that it is not involved in any sham deposit-mobilising scheme,” an official said.

Officials in the industries department said Chatterjee was unhappy after TV footage showed him attending a programme organised by one such company in Barasat last year.

Confirming the instruction to officials, Chatterjee said: “I am taking extra precautions. Questions are being raised if a minister attends any event.”