With falling grace and fading political acumen, Sovan Chatterjee’s lost connection with the masses is an open secret in Bengal’s politics.
Due to his political hibernation for nearly 22 months, coupled with health concerns, it will also be difficult for Sovan to prove himself as a game changer for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2021 assembly polls.
Despite knowing the present political position of Sovan – the former Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) mayor and Mamata Banerjee’s once blue-eyed boy ‘Kanan’ (as he was fondly called) – it is curious to witness how the state BJP is reaching out to him seemingly desperately ever since news surfaced that he may go back to the Trinamool Congress.
The first one to approach him was ‘silent RSS warrior’ Arvind Menon followed by senior BJP leaders over the phone. On October 3, 2018, Amit Shah appointed national executive member Menon as the party’s Bengal co-minder.
On August 24, 2020, Menon called on Sovan at his South Kolkata residence and held an unscheduled closed-door meeting for more than an hour amid rumours of Sovan planning to rejoin TMC.
Speculation over Sovan’s going back to Trinamool exploded after the TMC asked Ratna Chatterjee (Sovan’s estranged wife) to refrain from party activity at Ward No 131, which falls under the Behala West Assembly constituency in South Kolkata.
Though the outcome of the Menon-Sovan meeting is not very clear, political experts see this as the BJP’s strategy to use the Narada sting (Sovan is under the lens of the Enforcement Directorate) and Saradha Ponzi scheme as a weapon to corner Mamata ahead of the state polls.
Political expert Kapil Thakur said, “Using probe agencies to silence opposition is nothing new in politics. We have seen this in the past too. In this case you will see a similarity in the BJP’s calculated move when it comes to Mukul Roy, Sovan Chatterjee and presently Suvendu Adhikari. Mukul Roy’s hobnobbing with the BJP in 2015 after his name came out in Saradha and then Sovan Chatterjee’s differences with Mamata Banerjee in 2019 followed by Suvendu Adhikari’s ‘repeated’ absence from party events amid the 2016 Narada controversy – this shows that there is something more to this. Otherwise why will the BJP reach out to Sovan who is politically insignificant in today’s politics? Is the BJP looking for something else from Sovan or in case of Mukul to corner Mamata Banerjee ahead of the polls? These are the obvious questions which will be known gradually in the coming few weeks.”
The ED has already served fresh notices to Saugata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Afrin Aparupa Poddar, Subhendu Adhikari and Ratna Chatterjee, wife of former mayor Sovan Chatterjee, in the Narada case.
On July 21, 2020, in her ‘Shahid Diwas’ (Martyrs’ Day) speech, Mamata Banerjee hinted that the probe agencies (including CBI and ED) were active again to harass TMC leaders in the Narada and Saradha cases.
“They (BJP and Centre) don’t have any other work except criticising Bengal. Already ‘nimantran’…’amantran’ (invitation) started coming in. I know before elections you (Centre) will leave no stone unturned to corner us with agencies. We understand what these ‘nimantran’…‘amantran’ are meant for. We understand these political stunts. But I would like to say that we are prepared for all when elections will be held in Bengal,” Mamata had said.
Speaking to News18.com, Shiv Prakash, BJP’s national general secretary and an old RSS activist, who is working silently to strengthen the party in Bengal, said, “I don’t have any knowledge about him (when asked to comment on Sovan). There is no challenge for us in Bengal (in terms of the upcoming assembly polls). The TMC is a sinking boat as party leaders are fighting with each other.”
Shiv Prakash, who worked closely with Amit Shah in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, was given the responsibility of organisational affairs primarily in West Bengal.
When contacted, the former Kolkata mayor and senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya said, “The CBI has sought Lok Sabha Speaker’s permission to prosecute TMC MPs in connection with the 2016 Narada sting operation in West Bengal. But nothing has happened. Then, I wrote a letter to the Speaker but there was no response from him. There are 13-14 people who are under the lens of the probe agencies but selective notices were served this time. I suspect that this was done to delay the matter further. Using agencies for political interest in nothing new. This time also the election is coming and unfortunately they again started doing all these things here.”
In the context of Sovan, he said, “He is politically insignificant in Bengal. I think the BJP is trying to create some impression on thez voters’ minds that they are more acceptable in Bengal’s politics and that is why leaders from other parties are joining them. But the ground reality is BJP has lost all credibility in Bengal.”
On October 29, 2019, in a significant political development, Sovan and his close friend Baisakhi Banerjee sprung a surprise by meeting Mamata Banerjee at her Kalighat residence on the occasion of ‘Bhai Phonta’ (Bhai Dooj).
Then, on Sovan’s possible return to the party, Baisakhi had said, “It is a fact that we had joined BJP but the experience was different…not the way we had thought. All of you know, Sovan has always been very active in politics. But you can see.. he is politically non active. Now the BJP has to decide how they want to utilise Sovan.”
Earlier, on August 14, 2018, Sovan and Baisakhi had joined the BJP at New Delhi. “I am happy to join BJP as I believe in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and Amit Shah’s determination in making a strong India,” Sovan had said.
In November 2018, Sovan resigned from the post of Kolkata mayor and as a minister for fire and emergency services and housing after his alleged differences with Mamata.
Later, it emerged that Mamata was reportedly unhappy with Sovan’s lack of interest in day-to-day administrative/civic responsibilities due to his legal battle for divorce with his wife Ratna.