Members of the Trinamool Congress are drawing parallels between the resignation of filmstar Mithun Chakraborty from Parliament on Monday and that of his contemporary Amitabh Bachchan in 1987.
Both superstars served as MPs for three years before resigning – while Chakraborty represented the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha, Bachchan represented the Congress from the Allahabad Lok Sabha seat, which he won in 1984.
Similarly, both Bachchan and Chakraborty resigned amid the shadow of scams. While Bachchan resigned in the wake of a fierce smear campaign over the Bofors gun deal, Chakraborty has quit after being embroiled in the Saradha chit fund scam.
Chakraborty was the brand ambassador of the Saradha Group, which ran a Ponzi scheme that collapsed in 2013, duping investors of thousands of crores of rupees.
Four days after Chakraborty’s resignation, party MP Tapas Paul was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with another chit fund racket, the Rose Valley scam, which is believed to be bigger than Saradha.
And on Tuesday, the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay met Central Bureau of Investigation sleuths in Kolkata after having being sent three summons from the agency in connection with the Rose Valley scam investigation, and was subsequently arrested.
Mithun Chakraborty is the second Trinamool Congress member to resign from the Rajya Sabha. The first resignation was that of Srinjoy Bose, who was arrested in connection with the Saradha scam in November 2014 and resigned from the party and the Rajya Sabha three months later. A third party member, Kunal Ghosh, a Saradha scam accused, was suspended by the party in 2013. He has, however, not resigned from the Upper House.
In a letter to Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari, Chakraborty cited ill health as the reason for his resignation. However, political watchers say that the actor has not been the same since his name was first associated with the scam in 2014.
The Enforcement Directorate – a central agency probing the Saradha scam alongside the Central Bureau of Investigation – has questioned Chakraborty several times in connection with it after it found that the Saradha Group had paid him a sum of Rs 2 crores.
Chakraborty told the agency that the money was payment for his being the brand ambassador with the Saradha Group, and as professional fees for his appearances in different events organised by the group.
Chakraborty returned Rs 1.19 crore to the Enforcement Directorate in June 2015. His lawyer Biman Kumar Sarkar said that the actor did so after he came to know that millions of people had been swindled by the Saradha Group.
“My client had paid income tax of Rs 56 lakhs on the fees he had received from Saradha,” said Sarkar. “It was short of what Saradha had promised him. Still, he returned the balance Rs 1.19 crore which the central agency accepted.”
A top Enforcement Directorate official in Kolkata, while acknowledging that the agency was satisfied with Chakraborty’s explanation, said that the actor’s name would still find a mention in the final charge sheet.
“Mithun Chakraborty returned Rs 1.19 crore and we had accepted it,” said the official. “The ED has to account for the money it accepted…and it will have to be part of the proceedings.”
Trinamool being targeted?
Md Selim, Communist Party of India MP and party spokesperson had a few words of commiseration for Chakraborty. “In being associated with the TMC [Trinamool Congress], a person like Mithun Chakraborty has suffered collateral damage,” he said.
However, he welcomed Paul’s arrest, saying that it was well anticipated.
Referring to the setbacks the Trinamool Congress has seen recently, Selim said: “These are guest artists in the Trinamool Congress party, and handpicked by Mamata Banerjee.”
OP Misra, a Jadavpur University professor and a West Bengal Congress leader said that Paul’s arrest was “delayed action” by the central investigating agency.
“It is a commentary on the policies and the corrupt politics of the TMC,” said Misra. “The party is steeped in corruption.”
However, Trinamool Congress leaders say that the fresh energy that agencies investigating the Saradha and Rose Valley scams are showing comes in the wake of West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s vociferous protests against the Union government’s demonetisation policy.
While acknowledging that he was aware that Chakraborty was not keeping well, Chiranjeet Chakrabarti, another Bengali movie star of the ’80s who is a Trinamool Congress MLA from Barasat, hit out at the Modi government for playing vengeful politics.
“It is really sad that Mithun Chakraborty resigned before his term ended,” said Chakrabarti. “He knows best why he resigned. But on the face of it, we know that he had not been keeping well and was undergoing treatment.”
He added: “Modiji is playing the politics of revenge and the people at large are not happy about it. People are disgusted and there will be a backlash.”
In a number of rallies that Chief Minister Banerjee addressed post demonetisation, she has condemned what she refers to as “the politics of vendetta” by the Union government.
“You will not be able to cow me down by forcing the central agencies on us,” said Banerjee at a rally in Kolaghat, West Bengal on December 21. “If you have the guts, Modiji, you arrest me. I challenge you.”
Banerjee has urged her MPs facing scrutiny to face investigating agencies like warriors.
Speaking to reporters after Paul’s arrest, she said: “It is an insignificant development. The Trinamool Congress party will deal with it politically.”
Banerjee added: “The more the Modi government indulges in such acts of vendetta, the more it will be in trouble. It had done similar acts of vendetta in Tamil Nadu and with Arvind Kejriwal. But I am a seasoned politician and know how to deal with it.”