West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday removed senior Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee as a minister and from all party posts after he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for an alleged scam in recruitment of teachers in the state.
“Partha Chatterjee has been removed from TMC along with the post of general secretary, national vice president and three other posts,” the chief minister’s nephew and party leader Abhishek Banerjee said, ANI reported.
Chatterjee was party’s secretary general for nearly two decades and was appointed as the national vice president earlier this year.
At a press conference on Thursday, Abhishek Banerjee announced that Chatterjee was also suspended from the party till the investigation in the case is underway.
“There will be zero tolerance for corruption,” Banerjee said. “We demand that the investigation be completed within a limited time frame. The TMC will not support anyone found to be involved in corruption.”
Earlier in the day, Chief Secretary Harikrishna Dwivedi said in a notification that Chatterjee was removed as minister-in-charge for industry, commerce and enterprises, information technology and electronics, parliamentary affairs, public enterprises and industrial reconstruction.
At a government event later, the chief minister said that she will look after the portfolios held by Chatterjee for the time being.
“I have relieved him [Partha] because my party is a very strict party,” Banerjee told reporters, according to India Today. “If someone thinks that they can change perception [about the Trinamool Congress] by showing this, they are wrong.”
Chatterjee is the first minister to be sacked from the Cabinet after the Trinamool Congress returned to power in the state in 2021.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s West Bengal chief Sukanta Majumdar alleged that the Trinamool Congress leadership was trying to make Chatterjee a scapegoat. “There are several people involved in this,” he claimed. “Sacking Partha da alone will not save TMC.”
The development came hours after Trinamool Congress General Secretary and spokesperson Kunal Ghosh demanded that Chatterjee should be removed from the Cabinet and expelled from the party.
“If this statement [is] considered wrong, [the] party has every right to remove me from all posts,” Ghosh wrote in a tweet that he later deleted. “I shall continue as a soldier of @AITCofficial [All India Trinamool Congress].”
The Trinamool Congress spokesperson said he had deleted his tweet as the party had taken up the matter.
Later, Ghosh also said that he trusted the chief minister and Abhishek Banerjee to take an appropriate decision on Chatterjee’s suspension, PTI reported.
Debangshu Bhattacharya, general secretary of the party’s youth wing, had also called for Chatterjee’s removal from the party.
“My grandmother used to say, if pus gathers in an abscess, it should be removed,” he said. “You will stay healthy and can sleep well. It is needless to withstand torture the whole body for one abscess.”
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Biswajit Deb said he agreed with Ghosh. He questioned why Chatterjee never claimed that he was innocent, and said that he should be removed in the party’s interests.
“This one incident has tarnished the party’s image,” Deb said. “A message should be sent out that the party won’t tolerate corruption.”
Chatterjee was arrested on July 23 in connection with the investigation into the alleged scam in the state School Service Commission in 2018.
The 69-year-old was the state education minister in 2018 when allegedly jobs were given to candidates in return for money instead of deserving candidates who had qualified in the recruitment process.
The Enforcement Directorate inquiry is based on a first information report filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation. On June 15, the Calcutta High Court asked the investigation agency to look into alleged irregularities in the recruitment of Group C and Group D staff, assistant teachers of Classes 9 to 12, and primary teachers.
The Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crimes, also arrested Chatterjee’s aide Arpita Mukherjee on July 23, a day after the agency said it recovered about Rs 20 crore from her home. In another raid on Wednesday, nearly Rs 29 crore in cash and 5 kilograms of gold were seized from a flat in Kolkata owned by Mukherjee, the Enforcement Directorate said.
“The said amount is suspected to be proceeds of crime of the SSC scam,” the Enforcement Directorate had said after the first raid. “More than 20 mobile phones have also been recovered from the premises of Arpita Mukherjee, the purpose and use of which is being ascertained.”
Chatterjee and Mukherjee have been remanded in the agency’s custody till August 3.