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Mamata at the gates, iftar usher Munna bolts & hides

(From top) Wearing a green kurta and a pleased smile, Mohammad ‘Munna’ Iqbal welcomes speaker Biman Banerjee at Firhad Hakim’s iftar on Friday; Munna’s daughter Saba tries to walk up to the dais but is turned away; Mamata Banerjee at the iftari. Pictures by Amit Datta

Murder accused Trinamul councillor Mohammad ‘Munna’ Iqbal played the principal usher at urban development minister Firhad Hakim’s iftar on Friday, but only till Mamata Banerjee’s arrival.

He positioned himself near the entrance of the screened shamiana near the CESC factory at Garden Reach and welcomed guests, most of whom were the city’s who’s who. He exchanged pleasantries with the mayoral council members of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and senior leaders when they entered the venue.

The councillor, who had landed the Trinamul government in a spot over the murder of a sub-inspector during a clash outside a Garden Reach college on February 12, was overseeing the arrangements.

Munna has been known to be close to minister Hakim and his presence at the iftar reinforced it.

When Assembly speaker Biman Banerjee stepped into the shamiana, he stopped for a while and shared a word or two with Munna.

The councillor, who is out on bail, bolted from his post and disappeared as soon as the chief minister alighted from her car. He quietly slipped into an enclosure that appeared like a green room on one side of the dais and remained there until the party ended.

His daughter Saba — wearing a green salwar-kameez — was flitting from one end of the pandal to the other, giving instructions to party workers and checking the arrangements. She sometimes stopped at the entrance and assisted her father.

She didn’t vanish immediately after Mamata reached the venue. Saba was at the entrance as Mamata settled down on the dais.

Moments later, she was seen heading for the stairs to the stage only to be halted by an elderly party worker. He whispered something in her ear and she moved away.

“What can we do? So much has been written about the family. That’s why they have chosen to lie low for some time,” said a party worker close to Munna and Hakim.

Munna had been on the run after the police officer’s murder until his arrest at Dehri-on-Sone in Bihar in May. He was granted bail after 77 days in custody on the grounds that his mother, a cancer patient, needed his care.

Party insiders said Munna had been instructed to maintain a low profile till the panchayat elections. He was also told to stay away from public events. He did not follow the instructions on Friday.