The year was 2002, and it was a pleasant February morning in Kolkata. The ‘Palash’ (flower) tree near Lal Dighi (a lake) was at her best, flaunting its keel petals like a fire.
On the other side of the road, the iconic Writers’ Building – the Greco Roman structure on the Dalhousie Square which used to be the State Secretariat till 2011 (when Mamata Banerjee came to power) in Kolkata – was buzzing with activities as armed policemen were seen taking their positions in a hurry and placing the road barricades for VIP movements.
The North-bound traffic in front of the Great Eastern Hotel near Calcutta Mint and the East-bound traffic in front of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was stopped. Swapan da (surname Das) – an extremely humble and popular roaming lemon tea vendor (then known to many in the corridors of power but his present whereabouts is not known) in the area – was asked by a policeman to move towards the Calcutta Stock Exchange due to ‘Charlie Mike’ movement.
During the last 34 years of Left Front rule, the Kolkata Police used to address the Chief Minister as ‘Charlie Mike’ on its wireless as their ‘code communication’.
Minutes later, a white coloured Ambassador car covered with Z-Plus security arrived at the main gate of the Writers’ Building and the Chief Minister (then) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in his crisp white ‘dhoti’ and ‘ kurta’ got down from the vehicle and walked towards the vintage collapsible elevator.
A couple of journalists who were waiting at the press corner became curious as to why Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was so early in the Writers’ Buildings.
A few minutes later they saw Md Usman walking towards the iron staircase connecting the backside of the Writers’ Buildings. Usman was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s most trusted driver and he used to drive his Ambassador car since 1982.
Mobile technology was not so advanced those days and there was no scope of breaking news through microblogging sites and messengers like WhatsApp. So the last hope was Usman to know why the Chief Minister was early in the Writers’ Buildings.
Usman’s interaction with journalists was a normal phenomenon at the Writers’ Buildings and it was known to all that Usman never used to reveal anything about CM’s movement. However, he was very courteous and used to maintain a cordial relationship with the media persons.
While the journalists were trying to get some clue, a man greeted the journalists from behind. “Apnara Bhalo Achhen? (Everything is alright?)”, the man said humbly while showing immense respect towards us.
Before we could ask anything about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (knowing for his close association with him), the man with a smile and in a most courteous way, had said, “Except cup of tea, I can’t offer you anything.”
He walked away with a subtle smile when asked about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ‘early presence’ in the Writers’ Buildings. “Aamake Khoma Korben…Amake Berote Hobe…(Please forgive me..I have to go),” he had said.
Yes, the man was Alapan Bandyopadhyay and he was known for handling any situation with ease, without curling up his nose and forehead.
A favourite of all senior ministers during Left Rule
Extremely well behaved with vast knowledge of various subjects, Bandyopadhyay was the blue-eyed boy of all the senior ministers during the Left Rule in Bengal for his hard work and dedication while handling various departments.
His relationship with media persons was cordial because he was a journalist with a vernacular daily in 1983 (before he became an IAS).
Later, it came to know that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was early in his office that day because he wanted to go through some files related to Madrasas after a tip-off from police that some of the Madrasas are indulged in anti-national activities.
Nowadays, Bandyopadhyay – who retired today (May 31) and was made State Chief Minister’s Chief Adviser – has emerged as another flashpoint between Mamata Banerjee and the Centre.
While Bandyopadhyay was appointed as the Chief Adviser to the CM, the State Home Secretary HK Dwivedi took over the charge of the new Chief Secretary of West Bengal.
The Additional Chief Secretary B P Gopalika became the New Home Secretary.
An IAS officer of the 1987 batch, Bandyopadhyay was the additional chief secretary of the micro, small and medium enterprises and textiles department before he was appointed at the home and information department in 2019.
He is known as an excellent taskmaster and therefore, he was the blue-eyed boy during the Left Front rule in Bengal. After Mamata came to power in 2011, he once again earned praise for his hard work and today he was appointed as Mamata’s Chief Adviser.
On May 28, Bandyopadhyay was recalled by the Centre on deputation reportedly for his absence in the Cyclone review meeting chaired by PM Modi in Kalaikunda on May 28.
Bandyopadhyay was due to retire on May 31, 2021, but he was given a three-month extension on request of the West Bengal government due to a surge in Covid-19 and his vast experience in managing relief operations during natural calamity.
However, amid a recall order, Bandyopadhyay decided to discontinue his extension and expressed his desire to retire. Following his decision, he was made Mamata Banerjee’s Chief Adviser on Monday (May 31).
In 2015, when Bandyopadhyay was the West Bengal transport secretary, he was named interim state election commissioner after S R Upadhyay put in his papers allegedly due to pressure from political parties due to allegations of violence in the local body polls.
Former Chief Ministers Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee both used to like him for his innovative and new ideas for the welfare of the people mainly in rural Bengal.
Bandyopadhyay became one of the most trusted men of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee when he was the minister of information and culture affairs in 1987.
Former journalist, brilliant student
Bandyopadhyay was born on May 17, 1961, and he did his schooling at Ramakrishna Mission in Narendrapur in the South 24-Parganas district. He was a brilliant student and decided to go for humanities instead of going for science stream or engineering.
After his schooling, he got admission to the prestigious Presidency University (then it was a college) and graduated in Political Science. Later, he did his Masters from Calcutta University and during his college days he met Sonali Chakrabarty, daughter of the famous poet (Late) Nirendranath Chakrabarty and they married.
In 1983, Bandyopadhyay decided to pursue his career as a journalist and joined Anandabazar Patrika.
While pursuing his career in journalism, he was also preparing for the civil services and in 1987, he cleared the examination. Since then, it’s been 34 years of his bureaucratic journey and throughout his career, he always followed the rule book while performing his duty at various posts and positions in Bengal.
He served as the district magistrates of Howrah, North and South 24 Parganas districts. He was also the Commissioner of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).
He was also in charge of several departments which included transport, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), commerce and industry, information and culture, and home as principal secretary.
He never worked in Delhi and authored a very famous book ‘Amlar Mon’ (heart of civil servants) which was released in 2017. In his book, he described former Chief Secretary (during Jyoti Basu’s tenure) Rathin Sengupta (1955 batch IAS officer) as ‘Uttam Kumar’ of administration after independence.
Bandyopadhyay is an avid reader and his love for Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi is known to all.
His unique style and diction while delivering a speech in English and Bangla makes him the most liked bureaucrats in the corridors of power in Bengal.