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The Madan Mitra Interview | Bengal’s maverick politician on Mamata, Trinamool, BJP and the levity he brings to the state’s heated politics

Madan Mitra, veteran TMC leader and former Bengal transport minister, is confident he will win hands down this time from the Kamarhati assembly seat.

March 31, 2021 / 12:24 PM IST

Madan Mitra, veteran Trinamool leader and former Bengal transport minister, resembles the proverbial character of Sancho Panza in Don Quixote. He is realistically funny in the state’s high voltage elections where violence and deaths are routine.

Mitra, who lost from the Kamarhati assembly constituency in north 24 Parganas during the last assembly polls, doesn’t want to remember the 2016 defeat at the hands of Manas Mukherjee, a CPM rival. He is confident he will win hands down this time.

He is in full swing, sorry full mood, as the first phase of elections ended in Bengal on March 27, 2021.

A day before Holi, Mitra celebrated the festival—popular as Dol in Kolkata—on a vessel in the Ganges with three actors-turned BJP nominees. Payel Sarkar, contesting from Kolkata’s Behala East, Srabonti Chatterjee, contesting from Kolkata’s Behala West and Tanushree Chakraborty, contesting from Howrah’s Shyampur constituency, joined Mitra and sang a 1987 Asha Bhosle song Khelbo Holi Rong Debona which translates into “We will celebrate Holi but won’t splash colours on you”.

The news triggered both surprise and shock in the BJP camp.

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“I have known them for many years, this is a festive mood, do not look for politics here,” Mitra told a handful of pesky reporters who asked him why he chose to celebrate Holi with his rivals.

Dances and Gestures

Every day is a new day for Mitra and his antics, he dances in the garden next to his home before television cameras, makes multiple gestures while talking. He is just like the earthy character from the 1605 Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Mitra often employs an unique wit in dealing with the rival BJP, going to the extent of irritating leaders of the saffron brigade.

BJP leaders in the state think Mitra is a nuisance, a troublesome leader who has to be listened to but ignored totally.

But that does not bother Mitra. A maverick of sorts, he is always on Cloud Nine. He imagines he is in old-time Calcutta, not Kolkata, a city which was then ruled by the British and his constituency, Kamarhati was then home to rich zamindars who lived in their majestic bungalows where courtesans and dancers would regale guests every evening.

Young At Heart

Mitra loves to make style statements, he landed up in a yellow kurta at the annual Saraswati Puja festivities in February this year at his alma mater, Ashutosh College in South Kolkata, and told students that he was feeling both young and romantic. The celebration of the Hindu goddess of learning is also known as Bengal’s version of Valentine's Day as scores of youngsters wear trendy clothes and go on dates.

“I am young at heart, love to mix with young people and I wanted to make a statement that love should be in the air and Bengal should never become a place of hatred like Uttar Pradesh,” Mitra told MoneyControl.

His rivals do not take him seriously but that has not deterred Mitra, he routinely comes up with some trick or other.

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His latest video, Oh Lovely, has gone viral, Mitra is seen holding a green pumpkin and then cutting it to show how TMC leaders changed colours and shifted to BJP. He slices up the huge vegetable to highlight the saffron inside. And then he breaks into a song that has lines like Dhina Dhin Ta, O Madanda, Public Shob Bojhey, Bhorshar Lok Khojey, Oh Lovely, Oh Lovely, which translates into “Public understands everything, looks for people they can trust, Oh Lovely”. The song is a hit on Hotstar.

“I am feeling lovely because I know what will be the outcome of the elections, the BJP will not be able to conquer Bengal. They have huge financial backing but money is not everything. Let me be more open, BJP will take generations to understand the needs of Bengal,” said Mitra.

Mitra had told a television channel in January this year that he will have his hands chopped if BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari defeats Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram constituency. In many ways, he sees himself as the proverbial Hanuman to his favourite Didi. She is everything for him, Sita and Durga rolled into one.

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Mitra’s Kamarhati Assembly constituency is a part of the Dum Dum Lok Sabha constituency. In 2016, CPM’s Mukherjee defeated Mitra Interestingly, Mitra defeated Mukherjee in 2011, the year TMC swept to power in West Bengal. Kamarhati will vote in the fifth phase of the polls on April 17, 2021.

Didi Fan

Mitra says he is driven only by loyalty to his chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. “She is my biggest support. She is an exceptional leader. She will soon be called one of the greatest leaders of Bengal. She will retain Bengal for three consecutive terms,” says Mitra, 66.

Known as one of the funniest politicians in Bengal, Mitra was arrested once and sent to judicial custody for his alleged involvement in Sharada chit fund scam. Since then, he has been interrogated repeatedly by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials in Kolkata in connection with the probe into Saradha chit fund scam.

Mitra remains unfazed, he says he will continue to cooperate with the investigation. He reminds those in the room that the investigation into the scam, which surfaced in 2011, has not reached any logical conclusion.

“Yet many have changed sides in the hope they will be saved,” adds Mitra.

When he was arrested, Mitra had total support from Mamata Banerjee, she hardly questioned him. Mitra managed party funds, mobilised supporters and workers and organised vehicles and logistics during elections in the state. His critics often question his source of funds, Mitra was once criticised for lavishly celebrating at a function to celebrate his son’s wedding.

Mitra started his career with former Union minister Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and emerged as an influential student leader in South Kolkata. He eventually shifted to TMC in the 90s. Mitra says he is grateful to the Bengal CM for backing him to the hilt. “Her support is Godsend. She gave me courage and strength.”

The Saradha scam unfolded his connection with Sudipta Sen, the tainted entrepreneur and promoter of the Saradha group. When Mitra was arrested, Banerjee strongly defended him, calling the arrest vendetta politics.

The Saradha group is alleged to have defrauded thousands of investors by means of fraudulent schemes floated by it.

Mitra changes tack, saying he does not want to discuss anything about the Saradha scam because the matter is sub-judice.

He wants to talk about top TMC leaders who shifted to the BJP. Mitra says defectors live in hope but, actually, do not get anything from the party they join. “Look at those who shifted to BJP. They all started their careers with Trinamool and then changed sides, blaming TMC. Everyone who defected to BJP is saying they got nothing from TMC.”

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He said he even asked TMC leader Shuvendu Adhikari before he shifted to BJP that what was his demand? He asked a similar question to Mukul Roy who also shifted to BJP. “It seemed to me both wanted the moon, they wanted TMC to create a post of deputy chief minister and they both wanted that seat. But they did not get the seat, so they went to the BJP.”

Mitra says there is a proverb in Bengal that says it's better to keep the cattle shade empty than fill it with troublesome cows.

Mitra said he was surprised that some MPs were contesting assembly elections in Bengal without understanding the psyche of Bengal. “They are all over, from Tarakeswar to Tollygunge and they are gasping for breath. Someone educated abroad is praying in knee deep waters and some is singing all the way,” says Mitra in an obvious reference to Tarakeswar BJP candidate Swapan Dasgupta (who has a degree from Oxford) and Tollygunge BJP candidate Babul Supriyo, also a well-known singer.

But the TMC has also fielded actors and singers?

“They are freshers, they are testing waters, they are not MPs keen to drop out from Parliament to enter a state assembly,” Mitra is quick in his reply. He is convinced Bengal is seeking her own daughter (read Mamata Banerjee) and Kamarhati will have its own son (read Mitra).

The BJP laughs at him, Mitra smiles. He says his band of supporters will help him win the contest from Kamarhati.
Shantanu Guha Ray is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

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