Two days after West Bengal Minister Partha Chatterjee was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the West Bengal School Service Commission (SSC) teacher recruitment scam, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee finally broke her silence by not only distancing herself from the development, but also warning the opposition and the media to not drag her name into the matter. Speaking at a State government awards ceremony on July 25, she said: “If someone is a thief, then Trinamool Congress does not care about that person. I have had my own [party] boys arrested. I have not spared my own MLAs, MPs and Ministers. But if you try to besmirch my name, then remember I too carry coal tar.”
Mamata Banerjee, who had been maintaining a measured silence during the ED raids and the subsequent arrest of Partha Chatterjee, one of the tallest and senior leaders in the Trinamool, said: “You can do whatever you want against the person who has committed a crime. I don’t care. But don’t try to touch me. If you touch me, I know how to fight you…. We will be the winner ultimately.” She said that a “wounded lion” was dangerous and warned the opposition not to “play with fire”. It was clear that she is wary of having her name linked with the teacher recruitment scam when Partha Chatterjee, one of her closest aides, admitted while being led away by the police that he had tried to get in touch with “the leader”, but could not.
On July 22, the ED, while raiding the house of the actor Arpita Mukherjee, known to be a close associate of Partha Chatterjee, recovered Rs.21.2 crore in cash, jewellery worth Rs.79 lakh, and Rs.54 lakh in foreign currency. Referring to a video showing her sharing the dais with Arpita Mukherjee, Mamata Banerjee said that “neither the party nor the government has any connection with that woman”. “I had gone to a puja pandal inauguration. How am I supposed to know who is whose friend? A woman was apparently there, and she was apparently Partha’s friend. Am I god that I should know all that…. I go to Puja functions, and I am photographed with people I don’t even know. Will I not go to puja pandals then?” she said.
The Chief Minister also claimed that she had no knowledge of the scam. “Tell me where if a hundred people are getting jobs, one does not give one’s own person a job as well. You people [members of the audience] run institutions everywhere. It is your choice who you wish to keep in your employment…. For so long I did not even know about it, even in this age of viral news. If the media had reported on it earlier, there would have been action. Out of one lakh people who got jobs, 200 complained,” she said. Protest over the SSC scam has been ongoing over the last one and half years. She pointed out that the law will take its course and that all the facts were not yet out. “Before the child is born, the date of the rice feeding ceremony is being fixed. We have to see whether this was a trap or not…. I have faith in the judiciary even though I know how much influence the BJP has on the judiciary. The entire media has been bought over by the BJP,” she said.
She emphasised that she neither encouraged nor indulged in corruption. “I get a pension of Rs.1 lakh from the Parliament; and as an MLA and Chief Minister I can well get Rs.2 lakh. So calculate how much Rs.3 lakh per month for 11 years amounts to. But I have not taken a single paisa. I voluntarily serve the people. Today, I am truly hurt and saddened by the behaviour of certain political parties,” she said. She claimed that the money she makes comes from the royalties of the 120-odd books she has written and the music she has composed. “The kind of royalties I earn from books, most people don’t. That is because many of my books are bestsellers. What can I do?”
Reacting to the Chief Minister’s comments, Suvendu Adhikari, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said: “For so long she has been silent. Now, while trying to disassociate herself from Partha Chatterjee, she has also exposed her government’s way of functioning when she said, one has to give jobs to one’s own people.” Mohammed Salim, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and politburo member, said: “The School Service Commission Chairman, the West Bengal Secondary Education Chairman are all handpicked by her [Mamata Banerjee]... and yet she is saying that she has been unaware of everything.”