Kolkata: From being a model-cum-actor to becoming the “close associate” of an influential West Bengal minister, Arpita Mukherjee had a meteoric rise. In between the years, her address changed from the middle class neighbourhood of Belgharia in North 24 Parganas to the posh Tollywood area in southern Kolkata.
But her fall was spectacular as well. Arpita was arrested a day after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) Friday seized ₹21 crore from her flat which the agency suspects were proceeds of kickbacks in the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) recruitment scam. The alleged irregularities date back to the time when Bengal’s industries and commerce minister Partha Chatterjee was in-charge of the education portfolio.
The ED seized jewellery worth Rs 66 lakhs, 20 mobile phones and foreign currency from her flat at Diamond City. The central agency said Arpita has several properties across Kolkata and Bengal, and claimed to have found documents showing her as director of several companies. In a press release, the ED designated Arpita as a “close associate” of Chatterjee. On Sunday, a city court sent her to one-day ED custody.
Arpita’s social media profile states she is an actor and model. She has been seen with Chatterjee in several social and public programmes, including those of the Durga Puja festivity of Naktala Udayan Sangha whose patron is Chatterjee. She has featured on the puja’s music album cover in 2021.
Last year during the Bengal assembly election, Arpita extensively campaigned for Chatterjee in his constituency of Behala Paschim. A photo of Mukherjee in an open jeep beside Partha Chatterjee and first-time Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLA Soham Chakraborty was widely shared on social media after her arrest.
On her Facebook page, Arpita has shared photographs of herself with Trinamool leaders at Kolkata International Film Festival and blood donation camps.
Arpita stepped into the glitzy world of Kolkata in 2004 when she began her career as a model. Movies followed after some years of struggle. Arpita essayed the role of a sidekick in the 2010 Bengali film ‘Mama Bhagne’ starring popular actors Prosenjit Chatterjee, Ranjit Mullick, and Ananya Chatterjee. The next year, she acted opposite Paoli Dam, Shaheb Bhattacharya and Prosenjit Chatterjee in ‘Bangla Bachao’.
“She has acted in three films I produced, but I haven’t kept in touch with her. Twelve years later, I am hearing about her and that too in the news,” said film director and producer Anup Sengupta.
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All at sea
Like Chatterjee who finds himself abandoned by his party, Arpita, too, is now on her own. TMC general secretary Kunal Ghosh denied the ruling party had any link with her. “I want to reiterate (that) Arpita Mukherjee has no links with the TMC; she is not a party member. The party has nothing to do with her or the money recovered from her house. Many activists and people from various walks of life share stages at Trinamool Congress programmes but that doesn’t mean they are a part of TMC,” he told the media Sunday.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would have none of it, with Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, in particular, having a go at the TMC.
On July 23, he tweeted a video of Arpita alongside senior TMC leaders including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from a Durga Puja inauguration at Partha Chatterjee’s local neighbourhood. He also tweeted a photo of Arpita which he claims is from the TMC’s event on 21 July when the party observed Maryrs’ Day. Earlier, he had tweeted a photograph of Arpita with Chatterjee, TMC state president Subrata Bakshi and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
“Guilty by Association” – A legal phenomenon used to describe when an individual is guilty of committing a crime through knowing someone else.
Yeh toh bas trailer hai, picture abhi baki hai… pic.twitter.com/4fM9gbLWrq
— Suvendu Adhikari • শুভেন্দু অধিকারী (@SuvenduWB) July 22, 2022
Meanwhile, Arpita’s mother Minati Mukherjee, who lives in their ancestral home in Belgharia, said law would take its course. She claimed that her daughter has been a victim of conspiracy.”
Minati said her daughter would often visit her and was an actor by profession who has starred in Bengali, Oriya and Tamil films. The mother lives all by herself in Belgharia. She has an elder daughter who is married. Arpita’s father who was a central government employee passed away just after she graduated from college, Minati said.
While Arpita was being taken for her medical test before being produced in court Sunday, she told the reporters outside ESI Hospital, Joka that she is innocent and was being framed. Asked if she has any link with Partha Chatterjee, she said: “No.”
With the Trinamool now washing its hands off Arpita who finds herself as an accused in the alleged teacher recruitment scam, the ED is now stepping up its investigation to unearth the money trail between her and Chatterjee.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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