Kolkata: West Bengal Transport Minister Firhad Hakim is one of three Trinamool Congress leaders — including another minister — arrested by the CBI last week in connection with the alleged Narada bribery scandal. But it’s Hakim’s absence that appears to be weighing most heavily on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Hakim, currently in house arrest, is known as Mamata’s most trusted aide. In every televised statement over the past week, Mamata has mentioned Hakim and said he is monitoring the situation from home — be it for Covid management or preparations for rescue-relief operations for Cyclone Yaas.
Hakim, whom Didi calls by his nickname ‘Bobby’, has been her go-to man for troubleshooting on urban development and city-related affairs, as well as to manage her minority outreach.
He is not just the first Muslim mayor of Kolkata post-Independence, but the first Muslim chairperson of the development board for the Tarakeswar Temple, a Hindu pilgrimage site in Hooghly.
During the campaign for this year’s assembly elections, when the state was facing a Covid surge, it was Hakim the chief minister tasked with managing the situation. When she wanted to protest against the fuel price hike, it was Hakim who took her from her residence to Nabanna on an electric two-wheeler.
After Mamata allegedly hurt her leg in a suspected accident during the Nandigram campaign, Hakim was seen taking the wheelchair-bound Mamata around.
Even in personal life, CM Mamata is known to count on Hakim, who volunteered to donate blood for her mother when she was ill.
Hakim’s family members describe the relationship between the two as that of siblings. “My father is not just a colleague for the chief minister, but her younger brother. It’s been 35 years since my father celebrated Bhai Phonta (Bhai Dooj) at Didi’s place,” said Hakim’s elder daughter Priyadarshini.
Within the TMC, Hakim is seen as a trusted lieutenant of Mamata who never questions her and has stood by her side.
Defending her ‘brother’
Hakim, the state’s former urban development minister and chairman of Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s board of administrators, was arrested by the CBI on 17 May in connection with the Narada case. The others arrested were minister Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra, and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who quit the Trinamool Congress for the BJP in 2019 and resigned from the latter party this March.
They were initially remanded in judicial custody but placed under house arrest on the orders of the Calcutta High Court on 21 May.
Mamata subsequently stormed into the CBI office and asked the investigation agency to either release the leaders or arrest her. She later visited Hakim’s residence and family members.
Banerjee has dealt with the arrest of senior party leaders earlier too. In 2015, for example, former transport minister Madan Mitra and Sudip Bandyopadhyay, leader of the Trinamool parliamentary party, were arrested by the CBI in connection with the alleged Saradha chit fund scam. But this is the first time she was seen storming the agency’s office to demand their release.
According to party insiders, Hakim is the primary reason why the chief minister sat at the CBI headquarters for six hours demanding the leaders’ “unconditional release”.
Hakim’s daughter Priyadarshini said Mamata Banerjee “did not rush to the CBI office in her official capacity as chief minister, but as an elder sister”.
“She protested against the arrest of her brother. She, of course, misses her brother during such challenging situations. But she guides him to deal with the situation and still serve the people,” she added, before dismissing the allegations against her father.
“He was seen taking Rs 5 lakh, but nobody saw why he took the money. It was a donation to the party and not bribe for any work. All political parties survive on donations and the BJP is no different. My father was framed,” she said.
‘Immoral act by CBI’
Speaking to ThePrint, a senior Trinamool leader said Hakim is “Didi’s lieutenant”.
“At the time Didi faced resistance and reluctance from the party’s senior leaders while elevating her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, Bobby Hakim stood with her. He never questioned Didi’s decision, but supported her,” the leader added.
Former KMC deputy mayor Atin Ghosh said the corporation is holding at least six virtual meetings with him everyday.
He added that the arrest is “an immoral act by the CBI”.
“This is against all traditions. It is an instance of unhealthy politics, which the BJP has brought in. People with crores of public funds ran away from the country, and that was allowed. But a minister who cooperated with the investigation and would never run away, was put under house arrest. The CBI is leaving no stone unturned to harass our government by moving the SC against the HC order in such a situation,” added Ghosh.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)