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Bobby’s business and why it is so

- The key to port clout

Calcutta, Feb. 14: Governor M.K. Narayanan, asked if minister Firhad (Bobby) Hakim was shielding the FIR-named Mohammad Iqbal, said today: “If Mr Firhad Hakim is doing it, he has no business doing it.”

Many who know Hakim would disagree in private, considering the mess in which the state urban development minister and one of the closest aides of the chief minister has landed himself.

Iqbal, the Trinamul chairman of CMC borough XV and better known as Munna, is indispensable for Hakim in Calcutta port, the seat from which the minister was elected to the Assembly.

Hakim had cut his teeth as a Trinamul activist in Chetla and stepped into port politics only in 2010 when Mamata Banerjee experimented with a young leader from the minority community to take on Ram Pyare Ram, a satrap in the dock area of the division.

Although the terrain was unfamiliar to Hakim, the pro-paribartan wave added wind to his sails and Trinamul managed to open the account in the port division by winning four out of eight wards in the 2010 civic polls. Hakim reaped the reward next year as Mamata fielded him in the Calcutta port Assembly seat against Ram Pyare, who was then in the Congress and is now with Trinamul.

As Hakim won the prestige battle by a margin of over 20,000 votes, he was permanently thrust into the complex world of port division politics.

“As an outsider, he had very little knowledge of the intricacies of the local complexities and had little option but to rely on people like Munna,” said a local Congress leader.

Munna, a councillor of ward 134, always enjoyed considerable clout in his ward under the port division as his elder brother Mohammad Jahangir, alias Mughal, had ruled the area for over a decade before he died in a gang war in February 2001.

“Hakim got significant leads from wards 133 and 134, where Munna’s writ runs. So, it is expected that he would try to save Munna,” said a Trinamul insider.

If Hakim is obliged to Munna, the minister has tried to repay his debt in the immediate aftermath of the murder of the police officer — and deepened the crisis for Trinamul.

Police sources said the minister tried his best to keep Munna and other Trinamul operatives out of the scope of the investigation.

Hakim was the first to reach Harimohan Ghose College on Tuesday morning after officer Tapas Chowdhury was shot. Even before the police started the probe, the minister had said: “Mohammad Mukhtar (a Congress functionary) was present at the spot and the entire attack took place under him.”

Hakim’s investigative skills lay in tatters minutes later when television footage clearly showed who shot the officer.

Yesterday, asked about a “chairman saab” (a reference to Munna, it has been confirmed now) figuring in the FIR, Hakim had said: “He is an elected representative. Elected representatives have to meet people from all walks of life, on a daily basis. He does that, I do that…. Nobody has ‘anti-social’ or ‘criminal’ written on one’s forehead.”

Hakim also said: “I do not know if there is need for more arrests” — an unusual statement from a minister in the middle of a police investigation into a murder.

The question to the governor and the “no-business” reply had come against this backdrop.

Questions are being asked about Hakim’s fate after the chief minister’s efforts to control the shooting fallout appear to have backfired and snowballed into a bigger crisis.

“He (Hakim) has been handling the matter on behalf of the government…. Now that Trinamul people are getting arrested and names of some of his close aides have cropped up in connection with the murder, questions have started cropping up about his leadership even within the party,” said a Trinamul insider.

“The manner in which Bobby has handled the incident is a clear indication that he has very little knowledge about the port division, leave aside administrative finesse… Now that names of Trinamul leaders are coming out, his position has weakened,” said another Trinamul leader.

Hakim, who was handling the case on behalf of the government, did not visit the police officer’s family — another factor that prompted several party leaders to criticise him in private.

Several veterans of the port division said other people on whom Hakim relied to control the area included Shamsuzzaman Ansari’s son Tabrez Ansari, Mulki Ayub, transport operator Sarfu and Merlin Alam.

“In an attempt to prove to the chief minister that he had assumed total control in the area, he went ahead with them, instead of trying to develop the party’s own organisational network,” said a Trinamul insider.

That Hakim was stumbling in his role as the leader of the port division became apparent as the party’s student wing lost elections in two educational institutions — Kidderpore College and Bankim Ghosh School in ward 76 — within a year of Trinamul coming to power.

“Questions were being raised about Hakim’s leadership qualities as he could not win polls in educational institutions at the peak of the party’s popularity. So, the polls in Harimohan Ghose College had become a prestige issue for him,” said a former aide of the minister.

But it was not only Hakim who was eyeing the student governing body polls in the Garden Reach college to prove his efficiency to the chief minister. There was competition down the hierarchy as Munna wanted to remind Hakim of his mettle by keeping Mukhtar, an Intuc leader, at bay.

According to the former aide, the key reason behind Hakim’s failure was his lack of experience in handling trade unions in the Garden Reach-Metiabruz zone.

Sources said that while handing him the reins of the port area, the chief minister had categorically asked him to penetrate the trade unions, which have always been under the control of Intuc and Citu.

“Despite his attempts, Hakim failed to dislodge Ram Pyare Ram from Kidderpore dock and Shamsuzzaman Ansari and Mukhtar from Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers,” a source said.

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