Calcutta, Feb. 12: The college poll was one of the tickets to a stairway that led to a chaotic but lucrative goldmine teeming with a port, several medium and small enterprises and thousands of sweatshops.
Ministers such as Partha Chatterjee and Firhad Hakim traced the root of the daylight murder of sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury to a clash between students for control of Harimohan Ghose College. Hakim heads the governing body of the college, a 40-year-old institution not unfamiliar with unrest.
But several residents told The Telegraph that the college election was just the tip of an iceberg in the port division.
The port division, the administrative nomenclature for the cash-cow belt, is broadly divided into two blocks — Kidderpore and Garden Reach clubbed into one and a large area of Metiabruz forming the other.
The Metiabruz block is referred to as “Saudi Arabia”, a label that classifies it as a land of opportunity because of the concentration of small businesses and their owners.
“Port division is a city within a city with its own demands and supplies,” said a Trinamul councillor from the area. “There is a lot of money floating around but only a select few can control the economic machine. The battle is over who will control the collection pie,” he explained.
The college election comes into play here — as a source of bragging rights and an avenue to display control. A recent directive attributed to a senior minister, which sought to tilt the collection balance, is said to be the immediate trigger that pitted the enforcers of Trinamul and the Congress against each other.
“If Trinamul’s student union wins the college polls, people know that Trinamul is the party in control in the area,” a veteran said.
His words found an echo in the presence of several local politicians outside the college on the first day of collection of nomination forms for students’ union elections. Among those present was Md Mukhtar, a Congress leader and the Intuc union secretary of Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers (GRSE), who was accused of attacking the car of Mamata Banerjee in 1992 when he was a Citu functionary.
Prominent Trinamul representatives outside the college included Md Iqbal aka Munna, Trinamul councillor of ward 134; and Ranjit Sil, Trinamul councillor of ward 133. Munna is believed to be a close aide of Hakim.
The college election drew more attention this time because of a realignment over the past few months. The switchover of Mukhtar from the CPM to the Congress accentuated the Left party’s slide in the area. Although the CPM and its ally Forward Bloc had considerable sway over the area, it had waned in the aftermath of Trinamul’s rise.
“The Trinamul support base had dented in the past few months and some people have switched allegiance to the Congress…. That’s why the college election was important,” said a local businessman.
According to him, once the clout of a politician is established, he or she can exercise complete control over almost all forms of economic activity in the area. The list of juicy operations include recruitment of contract labourers in GRSE, collection of local levies from trucks entering the area, permission for illegal construction and running illegal parking lots.
“Small businessmen who run sweatshops producing readymade garments have to cough up monthly doles to the leaders to avoid any trouble…. The earnings are huge as this area has thousands of such sweatshops, which churn goods worth several hundred crores,” said the businessman.
Some residents said the immediate trigger behind the flare-up was a recent directive from a senior Trinamul leader, who is also a minister in the state cabinet, that all such collections in the area would have to be through his men.
“The directive touched a raw nerve among other established operators in the area, like Mukhtar, and that’s why he was determined to show off the Congress’s strength in the college polls,” said a source.
The desperation of the other side — led by Munna — to deliver on the minister’s directive took the Trinamul leaders to the college this morning, he added.
The bitterness between the two factions became apparent when Hakim named Mukhtar as the shooter even before the police began proper investigations. Congress leaders, who have already demanded a CBI probe into the incident, said that Mukhtar reached the spot only after he came to know of the firing.
“It is apparent that these two parties are fighting among each other for a bigger share of the spoils from the port and the adjoining areas. If the ruling party and its one-time ally are engaging in such activities openly, Bengal’s image will be sullied further,” said Rahul Sinha, the BJP state president.