For Mamata Banerjee, he is a khub bhalo chhele (very good boy).
But Anubrata Mondal knows that “everybody cannot love you”. Not when his hoarse voice was replayed in Calcutta High Court after it hit the airwaves repeatedly this election season.
The Trinamul Birbhum chief’s speech before the panchayat polls is seen as the reason behind the murder of Sagar Ghosh, whose son Hriday had dared to contest as an Independent in the rural polls last year when the party denied him a ticket. Mondal is an accused in the murder.
At a Trinamul campaign rally on July 17 last year, Mondal had instructed party workers to burn down houses of Trinamul dissidents contesting as Independents and hurl bombs at policemen if they came to the rescue. Four days after he made the speech, Sagar Ghosh was shot dead.
Mamata took note of Keshto — the name by which Mondal is known by many in Birbhum — back in the days of the Singur movement of 2008.
“He had supplied rice and pulses to so many people (land protesters outside the Nano plant) for two weeks,” said a Trinamul leader.
His organisational skills earned Mondal more praise from Mamata in recent months.
“Keshto khub bhalo chhele. Chomotkar kaaj korey, darun shongothok. O oshustho. Apnara onekei janen na. O ke oxygen cylinder niye ghurte hoy. Or mathay jotheshto oxygen jaay na (Keshto is a very good boy. He is an excellent worker, a fabulous organiser. Many of you don’t know he is unwell. He has to travel with an oxygen cylinder. Not enough oxygen goes to his head),” Mamata told a meeting of Trinamul workers in Durgapur on February 15.
Close aides of Mondal said he is asthmatic and always carries an inhaler.
Sitting in a Trinamul office in Bolpur, Mondal told The Telegraph: “I feel tired sometimes…. But I cannot rest until we turn our Didi’s dreams true.”
Mondal’s rise from Nichupatti in Bolpur to become the chief of Trinamul in Birbhum has also added to the Opposition’s troubles.
A prominent CPM leader, sitting in a small two-storey CPM office in Illambazar, narrated a story to explain why Mondal is the man for all seasons for Mamata.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the sitting CPM MP from Bolpur, Ramchandra Dome, could campaign in only 27 booth areas of the 137 in Illambazar block.
“Our party workers did not dare to accompany our candidate in the rest of the villages…. Party workers apprehend that they would have to face the wrath of Keshto after the polls if he comes to know that they had taken our candidate to the voters,” said the CPM veteran.
“I must admit I haven’t seen such terror in my 45-year political career,” he said.
Mondal’s meteoric rise in Trinamul has baffled many old-timers in Bolpur.
The son of a farmer, Mondal came to Bolpur from his ancestral home in Hatserandi village in Nanoor to earn his livelihood about 25 years ago.
He started as a property dealer as the demand for land around Santiniketan had started rising then. He also cut his teeth in the Congress as an aide of Sushovan Banerjee, a veteran district leader, but switched to Trinamul in 1998.
“He came across as an affable neighbour who was always short of cash and was in the habit of buying things on credit from local shops. Some shop owners used to tease him. He would laugh it away,” recounted a grocer on Bolpur Station Road.
Mondal’s aides said he was forced to organise political events.
“He did not have the money at that time but never refused to organise meetings, road shows and campaigns for party candidates,” an aide said.
A CPM leader in Bolpur said: “But in the past seven to eight years, since he was named the district Trinamul president — a leap from Nanoor block president — he has emerged as a strongman and everyone is scared of him…. This transition is surprising.”
Trinamul leaders think Mondal’s following would help them secure the two Lok Sabha seats — Bolpur and Birbhum — in the district. The Trinamul nominees — Satabdi Roy in Birbhum and Anupam Hazra in Bolpur — are completely dependent on Mondal’s organisational skills.
“Starting from campaign programmes to selecting booth agents for both party candidates, Keshtoda is managing everything,” said a district Trinamul leader.
Despite being praised by Mamata, Mondal is often criticised by fellow party colleages for his strong-arm tactics.
“He is doing what the CPM used to do…. People don’t like such attitude and throw them out in due course,” said a senior Trinamul leader in Calcutta.
Mondal knows about his critics, but is unflustered. “It happens in a big organisation. Everybody cannot love you,” he says, stealing a glance at his supporters surrounding him in the party office.
One of the aides reveals the secret behind Mamata’s support for Mondal. “He has never demanded a ticket… Is there any leader like that in the party?” he asked.
Birbhum votes today