Education minister Partha Chatterjee with Arabul Islam (to his left, in blue check shirt) at Bikash Bhavan on Wednesday. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta
Partha Chatterjee’s escort on his first day as education minister was his self-proclaimed chela Arabul Islam, who had made headlines after his gesticulating arm sent a jug crashing into the chin of a woman teacher at a Bhangar college in 2012.
When Metro asked him what had prompted him to come to Bikash Bhavan, which houses the education department, the Trinamul strongman said: “Arey guru-sishyer byapar, thaktey hobey toh, naki? Amar guru chole eschhe, sishya asbey na? Parthada amar guru, ami chela of course.” (It’s between the mentor and his disciple. If the guru goes somewhere, can the chela be left behind? Parthada is my mentor and I am his disciple of course.)
On being asked whether he would now frequently visit Chatterjee, the former Bhangar MLA said: “Have you ever seen me roam around any minister’s office?”
Then why was he there on Wednesday? “Ajke elam amar gurudeb aschhen, tar agaman holo. Asay kono baran nei to. Bratya Basu thakte ekbar kaje esechhilam. Kaj chhara ei pratham elam. (Today I came as my mentor is coming. There is no bar on my visiting the department. While Bratya Basu was the minister, I had visited his office once for work. This is the first time I have come on a personal visit).”
Arabul, whose affidavit for the 2011 Assembly elections had stated that he was “10th Pass”, is the president of Bhangar Mahavidyalaya in South 24-Parganas
He arrived at Bikash Bhavan at 11.20am and waited about 15 minutes near the VIP lift on the fifth floor to welcome the new minister.
Once Chatterjee arrived, Arabul escorted him through the corridor along with department officials and parked himself in the front row when the minister was addressing reporters after taking charge.
While fielding questions from reporters, Chatterjee had gestured to Arabul, possibly suggesting that he come back after the press meet. Arabul stood up from his chair but lingered in the room.
A few minutes later, the minister was asked about his take on Arabul identifying himself as his chela. “I don’t know what he has told you. I have hot heard anything. As I have said, I won’t allow politics here,” said Chatterjee.
When asked why of all the party workers, the former Bhangar MLA had come, Chatterjee said: “Asish Banerjee, one of the sitting MLAs, is present, too.”
Banerjee, the parliamentary secretary for higher and technical education, has his office opposite Chatterjee’s at Bikash Bhavan.
Chatterjee put up a brave front arguing “anyone can come” when asked again about Arabul being present on the occasion. Around this time, Arabul left the room.
Before Chatterjee could be asked whether Arabul’s presence in his room would come in the way of implementing Mamata Banerjee’s promise to depoliticise education, he decided to end the press conference.
Late last year, the Mamata Banerjee government had proposed that anyone who wasn’t a graduate would not be eligible to head the governing body of a college in Bengal. The proposal was in response to the controversy over leaders like Arabul heading college bodies despite not having at least a graduation degree.
Trinamul MP Saugata Roy had said during a programme at Asutosh College in 2012, where he had taught physics, that he felt ashamed when people who had studied till Class VIII became chairpersons of college governing bodies.
A senior department official said they were drafting a law to raise the qualification bar. “Given what happened today, I wonder whether the law would ever come into effect,” said the official.
Arabul’s proximity to Chatterjee dates back to the time the minister was the leader of Opposition in the Assembly. Sources said Chatterjee found Arabul’s “influence” useful when he became industries minister.
A source said Chatterjee had wanted a smooth handover of 50 acres to Infosys in Action Area III of New Town, which falls under Bhangar-II block.
The project had run into rough weather as residents refused to hand over land for laying a link road to the site. The source said Chatterjee had called Arabul to his Camac Street office and told him to ensure there were no obstacles to the project.
“It was a prestige issue for Parthada as he was trying to hard sell Bengal to investors. Arabul stood at the spot while the land was being acquired for laying the link. No one came out to protest,” a Trinamul leader said.
Party leaders said Arabul followed Chatterjee’s instructions as it benefited his syndicate business, which supplies building materials to projects.
According to sources, Chatterjee was instrumental in Arabul becoming chairman of the governing body of the Bhangar college.
While the Lok Sabha poll results were being announced on May 16, Chatterjee patted Arabul’s back at Mamata’s Kalighat house and was heard praising him as a “very good organiser” for contributing to the massive victory of the party’s Jadavpur candidate. Bhangar falls under the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat.
“Now Arabul will feel more emboldened as Chatterjee is the education minister,” said a department official.