Kolkata: When Nisith Pramanik, a former leader of the Trinamool Congress’s youth wing, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he described the move as having “purified” him of his past — which included numerous criminal complaints.
“I have been redeemed of all my sins by joining the party. The BJP is like Ganga and I feel that I have been purified,” he said in a March 2019 interview to the Hindu. The past, however, has of late been close on the heels of Pramanik, who is now the BJP MP from Cooch Behar in West Bengal and Union minister of state for home as well as youth affairs and sport.
Earlier this month, a district court in Alipurduar issued an arrest warrant against Pramanik in connection with a 13-year-old jewellery theft case. While the Calcutta High Court stayed the warrant Wednesday, the resurrection of the case has given the TMC an opportunity to fire salvos at 36-year-old Pramanik and the BJP.
Sources from the Trinamool Congress told ThePrint that parliamentary party leaders Sudip Bandopadhyay and Derek O’Brien have sought an appointment from President Droupadi Murmu over the charges against Pramanik. A seven-member delegation will travel to Delhi when the appointment is granted, the sources added.
When ThePrint tried to contact Pramanik for comment, his office claimed that the district court had not issued an arrest warrant but an order for his compulsory production in court. His office, however, declined to issue a formal statement in this regard.
So who is Nisith Pramanik, Amit Shah’s deputy at the ministry of home affairs, and why is the Trinamool Congress gunning for him?
A checkered past
According to Pramanik’s election affidavit, he had 11 First Information Reports (FIRs) filed against him before he joined the BJP, with the cases in question ranging from criminal intimidation and rioting to attempted murder, outraging the modesty of a woman, and theft.
On 11 November, a court in West Bengal’s Alipurduar district issued an arrest warrant against Pramanik in a 2009 theft case, public prosecutor P. Narayan Majumdar told ThePrint. This week, Justice Tirthankar Ghosh of the Calcutta High Court stayed the warrant and asked the minister to appear before the district court between 7-23 January next year.
The incident was one of two that had taken place at jewellery shops near Alipurduar railway station and Birpara in 2009.
Despite the lapse of 13 years since the incident, Uttam Pal, the complainant in the case and the owner of the jewellery shop, still hopes the police will recover the stolen goods.
“My financial condition isn’t very good, I hope the police can recover the stolen jewellery. It doesn’t matter that Pramanik is a Union minister now, let them recover the damage from him,” Pal told ThePrint.
This, however, is not the only ‘active’ case against Pramanik.
In 2014, the police registered an FIR against Pramanik and nine others for “outraging the modesty” of a resident of Bhetagiri village in Cooch Behar’s Dinhata. The woman, Pramila Mahanto, claimed in her complaint that Pramanik and some others barged into the house she shared with her husband Nayan Mahanto, and assaulted him. When she intervened, they assaulted her too, the FIR said.
All 10 suspects in the case — including Pramanik — have been chargesheeted and are currently out on bail. The case will come up for hearing before a district court in January 2023.
In 2018, Pramanik was among 24 people who were chargesheeted in a case involving the murder of Abu Miaa, a gram panchayat member of Gitaldhaha (I). The FIR says that the victim’s nephew Jahidul Haque had alleged that Abu Miaa was killed at Pramanik’s behest after he returned from scrutinising nomination papers for that year’s panchayat polls. Pramanik was granted anticipatory bail by the Calcutta High Court in this case.
A senior police officer told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that since becoming a Union minister in 2021, Pramanik has been given security by the central forces.
This means no CCTV coverage around his residence in Cooch Behar, making it difficult for the state police machinery to investigate him, the officer said.
Of late, Pramanik has also been entangled in several political controversies. For instance, after he took oath as a Union minister in 2021, his educational qualifications triggered a row.
While his profile on the Lok Sabha website says he holds a Bachelor’s degree in computer applications, Trinamool Congress leader and former Cooch Behar MP Partha Pratim Roy claimed he had listed his educational qualification as ‘madhyamik’ (Class 10 pass) in his election affidavits.
Another controversy surrounding the MP came in July 2021 — just before Parliament’s monsoon session — when then Assam Congress leader Ripun Bora, who’s now in the TMC, claimed Pramanik was a Bangladeshi citizen. Bora had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for an inquiry into the minister’s citizenship status.
From schoolteacher to Union minister
Pramanik is said to have been an assistant teacher at a primary school in Bengal’s Cooch Behar before he joined politics as a member of the Trimamool Yuva Congress, the TMC’s youth wing, and gained a reputation as a strongman.
In 2018, however, he rebelled against the TMC by fielding 300 independent candidates against the party in that year’s panchayat elections. He joined the BJP in February 2019.
Since then, his political career has flourished, despite the controversies surrounding him. In July 2021, Pramanik became the youngest member of Narendra Modi’s council of ministers. He was also the first person from the politically significant Rajbonshi (or Rajbanshi) community to become a central minister.
The Rajbonshi is an ethnic group that inhabits parts of Assam, north Bengal, Bihar’s Purnia district, parts of Meghalaya as well as some regions in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. In Bengal, the group populates the north Bengal districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Darjeeling, and Murshidabad.
For 34 years of the Left rule in Bengal, the ethnic group remained its strong voter base but eventually shifted allegiance to the TMC in 2011. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, however, the community backed the BJP.
After joining the BJP, Pramanik played a key role in helping the party make inroads in north Bengal during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and won the Cooch Behar seat.
He also fought the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections from Dinhata and won the seat by a narrow margin of 57 votes, but eventually decided to retain his parliamentary seat.
‘Vendetta’ vs ‘criminal offence’
Pramanik’s case comes into focus at a time when the Trinamool Congress is facing the heat over corruption allegations in West Bengal.
With ongoing probes into the cattle and coal smuggling cases, alleged irregularities in the appointments by the West Bengal Central School Service Commission, and chit-fund scams plaguing it, the TMC is leaving no stone unturned to highlight the cases against Pramanik.
“The state is using false cases and harassing the BJP leaders in Bengal. This is a political conspiracy,” alleged Nikhil Ranjan Dey, a BJP legislator from Cooch Behar South.
Former Cooch Behar MP Partha Pratim Roy, however, said the TMC had nothing to do with the latest controversy around Pramanik.
“This is not a political controversy because the case is from 2009 and back then he wasn’t a popular politician. This is a criminal offence he had committed,” he told ThePrint.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)