Sunday, April 15, 2012

Between the cartoon’s lines: Disputed bill of Rs 17 lakh, TMC nexus with local business

Kolkata, Sun Apr 15 2012, 00:35 hrs
The honour of their supreme leader Mamata Banerjee may not have been the provocation for Trinamool Congress members to allegedly assault Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and force his arrest over a satirical cartoon. In fact, the sequence of events on April 12 confirms how the cartoon email was used to settle business scores via politics.
On March 26, Mahapatra forwarded the cartoon email to a group of 65 residents of the New Garia Housing Society of which he is assistant secretary and where he’s been living since 1980. Subrata Sengupta, the secretary, was also with him when he sent the email. After protests by some pro-TMC residents that the housing society email ID was used for a “political message” by the “Left-leaning” Mahapatra, the professor sent an apology email to all on April 6.
Eyewitnesses told The Sunday Express that on April 12, at around 5 pm, a group of local Trinamool leaders who run a syndicate supplying building material and doing construction work stormed the office of the housing society and demanded the payment of a pending bill of Rs 17 lakh. This group, led by Abhijit Mukherjee, a local Trinamool Congress leader, threatened the Treasurer and other office-bearers with dire consequences if the payment wasn’t cleared immediately, sources said. Mukherjee runs Reliable Construction, a shop supplying building material.
Mahapatra and Sengupta had blocked the payment saying the contractors’ claims of work could not be verified.
When asked about this today, Mukherjee said: “Our bill has nothing to do with the arrest and attack of Mahapatra. We will take care of the dues but what the professor did is deplorable.”
After threatening the society staff, Mukherjee and his group left.
Hours later, Mahapatra, on his way back from the university, was stopped near the society entrance at 9 pm and allegedly assaulted by a group led by local TMC leaders. According to the FIR he filed, he was forcibly taken to the society office.
Among those who attacked him were also TMC men who had stormed the society’s office earlier in the evening. These included Mukherjee and his associates who were arrested today: Amit Sardar, the TMC leader who lodged the cartoon complaint; Nishikanta Ghoroi and Sheikh Mustafa, members of Mukherjee’s construction syndicate.
Mukherjee admits that some residents sent him the email. “Many of us have got phones that can accept emails. We got the cartoon email from some members of the housing society.”
At 10 pm, police from the East Jadavpur police station reached the society’s office and arrested Mahapatra and Sengupta under the I-T Act and other charges including outraging. They were detained overnight at the police station, produced in court the next morning where they got bail.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Mahapatra said that Mukherjee had submitted bills for an amount of Rs 2 lakh for materials he had reportedly supplied to the housing society between 2005-09. Other members of his syndicate have asked for Rs 15 lakh in all as pending dues. “These were the years when the society was run by a Government-appointed administrator after a series of complaints by society members regarding illegal transfer of plots, financial malpractice and illegal construction. We have to check the veracity of their claims before we clear any payment,” said Mahapatra.
Already, the party is trying to distance itself from Mukherjee. Said Kajol Chakraborty, a veteran TMC leader of the area: “As our leader Mamata Banerjee is against any partyman indulging in real estate promotion and syndicate business, the party warned Mukherjee to either quit the business or the party.”
But he added: “Cartoon can be taken in good spirit but you will find red vermilion on Mamata Didi’s head. It’s in bad taste for a professor to share such pictures.”

Cartoons can’t destroy image: Dinesh Trivedi
Speaking on the arrest of Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra over a cartoon, TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi Saturday said “cartoons are an integral part of democracy”. If a person is “standing on one’s feet”, he or she should not be perturbed by cartoons, Trivedi said, during a visit to his ancestral town Kutch. “Cartoons cannot destroy your image. People make your image and it is they who destroy it.” Trivedi was forced out as Railway Minister by Mamata and replaced with Mukul Roy, and the cartoon referred to that, featuring all three.


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