Several Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders who are known for their clean image have been approached by I-PAC, the company owned by election strategist Prashant Kishor, for joining the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) ahead of the assembly polls in 2021.
Kishor – who earlier helped the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the YSR Congress Party win elections – was roped in by chief minister Mamata Banerjee after the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The TMC’s tally came down from 34 seats to 22. The BJP poses a challenge to Banerjee in the run-up to the assembly polls.
Five senior CPI(M) leaders, including a former information technology minister in the erstwhile Left government and a sitting legislator, told HT that they were contacted by Kishor’s team in August and offered “better career prospects in the ruling party”. They said they turned down the offer.
All the Left leaders said that I-PAC representatives who met them spoke in Hindi and English and said they were from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
They also claimed that the I-PAC teams told them that they were approached only after a survey confirmed their credibility as honest and effective politicians.
“On August 4, a man called me up and said I had done good work while serving as legislator from the Entally constituency in Kolkata. He said I-PAC would like to interact with me. I said I was not interested and hung up,” said Debesh Das, former IT minister and a former professor at Jadavpur University.
Laxmi Kanta Roy and Mamata Roy, former CPI(M) legislators, claimed that they were offered funds to contest on the TMC ticket.
“A man came to my house on August 9. He looked around and asked how could I live in such a small house and why don’t I have a car. He said if I work for the TMC I would get funds and anything else that I might need. I told him communists cannot be purchased and asked him to leave,” said Mamata Roy.
Laxmi Kanta Roy claimed to have had a similar experience. “I told the man who came to my home that Communists don’t deviate from their ideology and I am happy with my life,” said Roy.
Rafikul Islam, the CPI(M)’s sitting legislator from Harirampur in South Dinajpur district, said, “I was urged to visit Kishor’s office in Kolkata. I said I am 67 and a man does not give up his ideology at this age.”
A lawyer by profession, Subinay Ghosh, the former CPI(M) MLA from the Krishnanagar North seat in Nadia district, said a man from Hyderabad came to see him at the local court premises.
“He said I-PAC has formed separate teams for every Lok Sabha and assembly constituency and I was selected during their survey. I said, having served the people as a councillor and MLA, there is nothing more I look forward to in life,” said Ghosh.
HT contacted I-PAC and a top functionary confirmed that teams from the company are approaching handpicked leaders from the Left parties.
“It is evident that the TMC and BJP are the main forces in Bengal. It is essentially a two-horse race and the Left is a marginal factor. Our teams are only telling some selected Left leaders that if they really want to serve the people they have a better chance of doing that as part of the TMC. The decision is for them to take,” said the I-PAC functionary who spoke strictly on condition of anonymity.
Significantly, the functionary bulldozed claims made by a sitting MLA of the Forward Bloc, a partner in the Left Front, that Kishor himself insisted on meeting him and drove down to a star hotel on EM Bypass in Kolkata to offer ministerial berth in the next government.
Forward Bloc’s youth leader Ali Imran Ramz, who won the Chakulia assembly seat in North Dinajpur district in 2011 and 2016, claimed that Kishor came to meet him at the hotel where he had gone to have dinner with his wife on July 17.
“Anyone can check the hotel’s security camera footage to verify my statement. My wife and I had tea with Kishor at a lounge between 10 and 11 pm,” Ramz told HT.
“It is a big lie. Ramz was repeatedly telling members of the I-PAC team that his wife is a fan of Kishor and the couple would like to meet him. Kishor has been staying at that hotel ever since he started working in Bengal a year ago. He does not meet MLAs like this. He showed the courtesy only because Ramz came with his wife,” said the I-PAC functionary.
“When they met, Ramz and his wife sought Kishor’s advice. Ramz said he does not have much future in the Forward Bloc,” he added.
“It is also a lie that the couple had dinner at the hotel. When Kishor offered them to have food with him they said they had come straight from a marriage ceremony where they had their dinner. So, Kishor offered them some tea. The couple had tea and coffee and the bill was paid by Kishor. We have the documents,” said the I-PAC functionary.
When HT questioned Ramz, he went silent on his claim of having dinner at the hotel and admitted that Kishor paid for the beverages.
“I was not aware that Kishor was staying at the hotel. But it is not true that it was I who insisted on meeting him. Also, my wife doesn’t even know who he is,” said Ramz.
Senior TMC leader and state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee dismissed the statements made by the CPI(M) leaders. “They lost their heads after losing the elections,” he quipped.