Kolkata: West Bengal MLA Rabiranjan Chattopadhyay, 80, a member of the Trinamool Congress and former state minister, is unfazed by the controversy surrounding his daughter-in-law Ankhi Das.
Das, who oversees public policy for Facebook in India and some other Asian countries, has been under fire since last week when a report in The Wall Street Journal claimed she deliberately overlooked hate speech by BJP leaders on Facebook to protect the company’s business prospects in India.
Leaders of the opposition — Congress and CPI(M) — have since trained their guns on Das, citing her twin sister Rashmi’s roots in RSS student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and alleging a threat to democracy.
The CPI(M), in particular, has alleged she has a relationship with not just the BJP but also the Trinamool Congress, since Chattopadhyay is a member of the party.
~ @Facebook India PPD #AnkhiDas, sister of erstwhile @abvpjnu activist & wife of founder of @ABVPVoice unit at Presidency College in Kolkata is the daughter-in-law of @AITCofficial 2 time MLA & Ex minister Rabiranjan Chatterjee.
— CPI(M) WEST BENGAL (@CPIM_WESTBENGAL) August 20, 2020
We cannot allow any manipulation of our hard-earned democracy through bias, fake news & hate speech.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 18, 2020
The Congress has sought a joint parliamentary committee probe into the matter.
In an exclusive interview with The Print, Chattopadhyay, a former professor at Burdwan University, said the controversy is just a “conspiracy” to malign the image of his daughter-in-law, a “successful Bengali woman who scaled heights on her own capability”.
“My daughter-in-law is intelligent and wise enough to not fall for such a malicious campaign and is incapable of doing anything unethical,” he said.
“The CPM is a party of liars and people know that. They used to call our great icons of Bengal, including Tagore and Netaji, names. That is their legacy. They cannot see any Bengali shining,” he added. “The Congress lost relevance anyway and that is why they follow the CPM’s pseudo-intellectual ideas.”
Das is married to Chattopadhyay’s son Soumya Chatterjee, a senior executive at the Asian Development Bank, and the couple is settled in Delhi.
“Ankhi is a brilliant woman, and she works with full responsibility. I don’t believe that she is capable of doing anything unethical. Moreover, she works with an international giant, and the decision… was, of course vetted by the management of the company,” said Chattopadhyay.
‘Politics has touched new low’
Chattopadhyay, a two-term MLA, scored his latest victory in the 2016 assembly polls, from the Burdwan Dakshin constituency. He first won the seat in 2011 by defeating the Left Front’s Nirupam Sen by 37,000 votes.
He served as Minister for Technical Education and Training and Biotechnology in Mamata’s first cabinet (2011-2016), but was kept away from a ministerial role in the second term owing to his age, sources said.
Speaking to ThePrint, he dismissed the idea that Facebook or any social media platform could sway elections. If they could, he said, then Modi would have lost in 2019 and the CPM-Congress alliance would have won the 2016 Bengal assembly polls.
“Elections are won through villages in India. Facebook may create a hype, but, most of the time, it does not reach 80 per cent of the voters who belong to the rural hinterland of the country,” he added.
“Mamata Banerjee had been the most popular and credible face in Bengal in 2016. She never needed Ankhi or anyone to manipulate people’s thought process. I never thought of using my daughter-in-law, who is more like a responsible daughter to me, for winning an election. So what is the connection?” he added.
Stating that the chief minister never raised any questions, and called him regarding the issue, he said, “I know some of my colleagues are saying certain things about Ankhi. My party will answer that. I am no one to comment.”
He said even Das is unaffected by the “mudslinging”. “She is mature enough to deal with this. She appears unperturbed. Moreover, there are top people in the company who vet and take the final call for any decision taken,” he added.
About the opposition’s campaign to cite her sister’s ABVP roots, he said, “Politics has now touched a new low. It gets personal, peeps into one’s private life, relations to malign. People know what the CPM is. They are only present on social media… They are anyway decimated in Bengal, and in 2021, I doubt that they would secure any seat in the state.”