The ‘poll’pourri in Bengal has all the makings of a superhit potboiler, writes Robin Roy

The last few days have been full of non-stop action for all parties concerned

Robin Roy | Updated on: Friday, February 26, 2021, 12:35 AM IST

Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee leaving nephew Abhishek Banerjee's residence with his daughter on February 23 | ANI
Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee leaving nephew Abhishek Banerjee's residence with his daughter on February 23 | ANI

The week that went by was full of action. And reaction, of course. To start with, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated and dedicated the Dakshineswar Metro services to the common man and thus connected both the Ma Kali ‘kshetras’, Kalighat and Dakshineswar, by metro rail. A huge step for religious tourism! However, it also seemed that the party was in a hurry, as if there’d be no tomorrow. It also went on a hyper drive with the district-wise ‘Poriborton Rath’.

Finally, on Sunday, the CBI knocked on the doors of Abhishek Banerjee’s palatial Shantiniketan and served a notice to his wife Rujira Banerjee and her sister Maneka Gambhir.

Vendetta politics?

However, within a few hours after Rujira Banerjee first met CBI officials, BJP’s Rakesh Singh got arrested for his alleged involvement in a drug case in which BJP’s youth ‘leader’ Pamela Goswami was arrested. Pamela, on her way to custody, was seen on TV, naming Rakesh Singh for his alleged involvement in getting her in this mess. Also, it was seen how Rakesh Singh’s son was pushed and forced into the police car for ‘not allowing’ police to do their job.

Local TV channels went to town hammer and tongs over both these issues, garnished with quotes from a plethora of leaders. While some said if the coal scam and others had been known about for some time now, why did the Central agency go on a hyper drive with the polls round the corner? Also, even as the CBI did its part, the local police were acting on the arrest of Rakesh Singh and the TV grabs of his son being bundled into the police vehicle were repeatedly aired.

Lockdown delay?

However, to defend the CBI ‘delay’… some leaders said for the last one year, due to the lockdown and pandemic, the probe ‘was hampered’ and hence the timing of it, which some felt was just a coincidence.

Even as the BJP, on the other hand, was on a hyper drive for the last few days, with the announcement of a slew of completed projects, especially in the railway sector, the chief minister and the TMC chief, Mamata Banerjee, was seen visiting her nephew Abhishek Banerjee’s house on Tuesday, minutes before the CBI officials reached. Given its timing, in political circles, this visit has assumed importance. She was in the house for exactly eight minutes and could be later seen leaving the mansion with Abhishek’s daughter.

Meanwhile, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “Daal mein kuch kaala hai. Didi (Mamata Banerjee) is trying to impact the investigation. Didi reaches wherever there is corruption, with an intention to cover up things. The CBI has initiated a probe and now more people will be summoned and questioned.”

On Wednesday, Mamata cried foul as she addressed a sizable crowd at Sahaganj, saying that how BJP reportedly ‘satiated’ its pride and ego by sending the CBI to her ‘bahu’s’ house claiming that the young woman was ‘involved’ in the coal scam. The head of a state’s outcry in this manner hasn’t gone down quite well in the Opposition political circles.

This campaigning has also witnessed the body shaming of BJP leaders by Mamata Banerjee. As if ‘Nadda... Madda’ were not enough, sample this -- she reportedly body-shamed top leaders too. At the Sahaganj rally, she called the leaders ‘Daanav’ (demon) and Raavan.

Who is Rujira Banerjee?

Meanwhile, the entire political atmosphere is abuzz with the big question: Who is Rujira Banerjee? The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) summoned Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira once again, turning the spotlight on her after the Customs notice to her in 2019, according to news agencies, including IANS.

A Thai national, she was served notice by the Union Home Ministry in 2019 over ‘discrepancies’ in her PIO card and other supporting documents.

A day after issuing a notice for questioning in regard to the illegal coal smuggling cas, which the agency registered in November last year, the CBI held that Rujira Banerjee ‘Naroola’ is acquainted with the ‘circumstances’ of the coal theft case, it was reported in a section of the media.

According to CBI sources, the agency wants to investigate the allegations that some transactions were made to her accounts by the main accused, one Anul Majhi alias Lala, who has been named in the CBI case.

Former Trinamool Congress Minister Suvendu Adhikari, who crossed over to the BJP about two months ago, had, terming Rujira as ‘Madam Naroola’ accused her of being the recipient of money from Lala. Even on Monday, he claimed to soon release a diary of the ‘transactions of Madam Naroola’.

Citizenship row

Rujira, who holds an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, grabbed national attention in March 2019 after she was reportedly accused of obstructing a customs officer at Kolkata’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) airport, after being allegedly detained by Customs for carrying gold in her check-in baggage, reported IANS.

Later, Abhishek Banerjee was seen on TV, refuting all the allegations as ‘baseless’.

The couple met when they were studying in Delhi and they were married at a lavish ceremony in New Delhi in February 2012. It may be noted that following the alleged brush with Customs, Rujira came under the Union Home Ministry’s scanner, on March 29, 2019.

The notice, sent through the foreigners’ division of the ministry, asked for clarifications from her within 15 days of the date of issue and threatened to take appropriate action if she failed to respond.

According to the notice, “Rujira, a Thai national, had been issued PIO card by Indian Embassy in Bangkok on 8 January, 2010 mentioning Niphon Naroola as father in the card. She applied for conversion of her PIO card into OCI (overseas citizenship of India) card in the office of FRRO, Kolkata and was issued the OCI card on 8 November, 2017”, IANS reported.

“One of the ‘supporting’ documents submitted by Rujira to get her PIO card converted into OCI card was the certificate of her marriage with Abhishek, which was issued on February 13, 2013, and there, she mentioned Gursharan Singh Ahuja as her father.”

“The Central Government has been further informed that on 14 November, 2019 Rujira applied for PAN card by filing Form 49A without intimating her real status as a Thai national holding OCI card and mentioning Gursharan Singh Ahuja as her father. She was actually required to fill Form 49AA to get a PAN by declaring herself as a foreigner holding an OCI card. On the basis of information given in her application Form 49A, she has obtained a PAN card under the name Rujira Naroola in the capacity of an Indian citizen,” the notice said, reported India TV.

Meanwhile, the CAPF and Central forces are staging marches in areas of West Bengal, while election commission officials are making frequent trips to the state and it is expected that the poll dates may be announced by the beginning of next month.

The writer is Senior Associate Editor, Free Press, Indore.

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Published on: Friday, February 26, 2021, 02:30 AM IST