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Big question: Is Mohta in or out?

Story of three omissions

By Pranesh Sarkar and Arnab Ganguly
  • Published 17.09.15
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Shrikant Mohta

Hint 1: Shrikant Mohta does not feature in the tender committee for the Calcutta Film Festival this year. Till last year, he was an integral part of the all-important committee that floats tenders and hires agencies for the event.

Hint 2: The government has decided to do away with Agomoni, a dance drama to herald the Durga Puja. Last year, the government had tied up with Shree Venkatesh Films, co-owned by Mohta, for the show.

Hint 3: If murmurs in the corridors of power are anything to go by, the government is set to restructure its communication advisory committee, which has Mohta as one of its members. The committee decides on the publicity policies of state government projects.

The series of moves initiated by the Mamata Banerjee government over the past 15 days have prompted questions on whether the chief minister is trying to distance herself and the government from Mohta, whose Shree Venkatesh Films has been accused of illegally recapturing a Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) plot.

Although some of the decisions were taken before Sunday's recapture, a section of bureaucrats said Mamata might have decided to keep Mohta at some distance from the government.

Since the recapture, neither Mamata nor any of her ministers has made any statement on the CPT's allegations against Shree Venkatesh.

Urban development minister Firhad Hakim, whose name had cropped up in connection with the assault on port officials and journalists on Sunday, had denied involvement in the incident.

Hakim's attempt to distance himself from Mohta, the sole supplier of stars to Trinamul and government programmes, assumes significance when seen in the light of some earlier developments.

"That Mohta has not been included in the tender committee for the next edition of the Calcutta Film Festival is a significant development. Of the eight members of the committee, the only non-government member is filmmaker Haranath Chakraborty," a senior official said.

The film festival is organised by the information and cultural affairs department, a portfolio held by Mamata. Mohta's proximity to the chief minister had made him a key player in the initiatives taken by the department.

Although Mohta has been retained in the general committee of the festival, this panel has an advisory role and very little power.

Senior officials said the possibility of a controversy brewing over the CPT land, which Shree Venkatesh has been accused of occupying illegally, might have played a role in the chief minister's decision.

Trinamul sources, however, said one should not read too much into the move to keep Mohta out of the tender committee.

"Nobody can say for certain that he or she is in Didi's good books. People have come and gone and later made comebacks. It's for sure that Mohta's story is not yet over," a minister said.

The minister cited the example of painter Suvaprasanna, who was once a key member of Mamata's culture clan and a regular at government and party events.

"After Suvada was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the Saradha scam, Didi appeared to be ignoring him at government events. During the Sharad Samman programme on November 7, she barely acknowledged his presence. Four months later, when Suvada did not attend the Charukala Utsav, she expressed surprise," the minister said.

A section of bureaucrats said the government's apparent stance with regard to Mohta could be a temporary phenomenon as the chief minister did not want him around her till the dust over the recapture settled.

"If Mohta is kept at a distance, it would deny the Opposition the opportunity to attack her," a Nabanna source said.

A Trinamul MLA said: "Ideally, Mohta should be out of her coterie as both the government and the party have faced embarrassment because of him. But such simple logic does not work in Trinamul. So, it is too early to comment on the future of Mohta."