All eyes on Election Commision as Mamata’s blue-eyed boy runs riot

By Anurag Dey

Kolkata : He is no magician, but assures the opposition would vanish on polling day. He has no qualms about asking his men to “bomb the police”. While some call him a “dumb publicity seeker”, Anubrata Mondal’s opponents blame him for violence, electoral malpractices and all that is wrong in his Birbhum district “fiefdom”.

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And he is not even standing for elections.

With the entire opposition and the civil society literally pleading with the Election Commission to take action against Mondal, it has seemingly become a big challenge for the all-powerful constitutional body to ensure free and fair polls in the district on Sunday by reining in the ruling Trinamool Congress strongman.

Under pressure to act, the Election Commission has decided to keep the activities of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s blue-eyed boy “under constant watch” by a team of Central Police Force supervised by a local magistrate during the entire election period.

The Friday order decrees that Mondal’s activities are to be videographed with date and time stamping. This is perhaps unparalleled for a political personality in independent India’s electoral history.

Having gained notoriety for his inflammatory speeches, the Trinamool Birbhum district president yet again got into the eye of the storm over his latest ‘magical prescription’ for his political rivals.

A self-confessed fan of Bollywood actor Amjad Khan, whose chilling dialogues as the dacoit Gabbar Singh in the evergreen celluloid hit “Sholay” he can mouth from memory, Mondal in a series of recent media interviews threatened that “not a single polling agent from the opposition will be visible” on Sunday when Birbhum goes to the hustings in the second phase of the assembly elections.

“Have you seen magic, how in the blink of an eye things vanish and thousands of people with wide eyes can’t fathom how it happened? It would be like that,” Mondal was quoted as saying.

“At the end of the day, people will say Anubrata forced the opposition polling agents to withdraw, but they will never be able to know how I forced them,” he continued, and even forecast the victory margins of the Trinamool candidates in each of the 11 Birbhum district constituencies.

His boast, only days after being reprimanded by the poll panel for making disparaging remarks against actress-turned-BJP-leader Locket Chatterjee, riled the opposition but as usual, the chief minister sprang to his defence.

Minutes after the poll panel on Thursday threatened to take legal action against Keshto, as Mondal is fondly called, a fuming Banerjee asked the EC what crime he had committed and said she wouldn’t keep silent if it dared to touch him.

Literally a heavyweight, weighing over 100 kg, the pot-bellied 60-year-old Mondal became a household name during the 2013 rural body polls when he had infamously called upon his partymen to “bomb the police” if the latter even thought of supporting dissident Trinamool activists contesting as independents. He also exhorted his supporters to “torch and damage the houses of the independents if they threaten you”.

Soon after Mondal’s speech, the houses of some independent nominees were set afire and the father of one of the candidates was killed. The opposition held Mondal responsible, but the Trinamool and the man himself denied the charges. The police have faced flak for soft-pedalling in the cases, though the bereaved’s son later returned to the Trinamool and withdrew the charges.

Time and again Mondal has been hitting the headlines for his ‘prescriptions’, which include sprinkling cyanides on rats (read Marxists activists) or chopping off the wrists of those who dare to tear party posters.

Having attracted Banerjee’s attention during the 2000 Nanoor massacre in which 11 Trinamool supporters were killed, allegedly by CPI-M activists, Mondal has gone from strength to strength in the party and since 2011 has become synonymous with Trinamool in its citadel Birbhum, thanks to the party supremo’s unflinching confidence in his organisational skills.

Many a times in the past there has been a clamour from the opposition for Mondal’s arrest. But it is believed that because of Banerjee — who also holds the police portfolio — he has remained untouched.

Fond of colloquialism, Mondal’s retorts are often cryptic and those who know him from close quarters, affirm that ‘intimidation’ is part of the repertoire.

Mondal’s promises of giving ‘gur, batasha’ (molasses and sugar drops) to the voters may seem an innocuous statement but he leaves a lot to be interpreted when he points to the colour of the batashas — blackish red (the colour of blood).

Notwithstanding his intimidating presence, Mondal suffers from acute respiratory trouble and as once the chief minister said ‘enough oxygen doesn’t reach his brain’ and he often has to carry an oxygen cylinder.