In Bengal, this is the season of summonses — and afflictions that may or may not be associated with the changing weather.
One such summons is for Madan Mitra, the Bengal transport minister who was once close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, in the Saradha case. Hours before the announcement, it was also revealed that Mitra was undergoing treatment in a clinic in Calcutta.
This reporter stumbled upon a chance to meet the minister and had a ringside view of what unfolded — barring an interaction with his lawyer — in the room where Mitra has been admitted. The following is an account:
Suite E. Fifth floor. Belle Vue Clinic
Name of the patient: (Not filled)
Under doctor: Dr Diptendra Kumar Sarkar
The occupant is a VIP and entry to the room is restricted but an aide leads this correspondent in around 4pm. The south-facing suite has a view of Minto Park and the water body nearby.
Transport minister Madan Mitra is undergoing an ECG.
“My doctors are worried. They say there is a minor problem in one of the valves of the heart,” Mitra says as the machine throws up sharp spikes on a graph paper.
Mitra says he spent the better part of the afternoon on various tests, including a CT scan of two tumours on either side of his spinal cord and a chest X-ray.
“I was feeling claustrophobic inside the CT machine after some time,” he says.
He picks up several stone-studded rings — which were taken off before the tests — touches his forehead and slips them back on his fingers.
“These are all astrological gems,” he explains while putting on around his neck two chains bristling with amulets. “You can’t wear these while undergoing the scan.”
(Later, outside the room, the aide helpfully explained that Mitra needed supernatural favours now. The inference was to the Saradha summons, which the minister has been describing as a call to be a witness, not an accused. But unknown to the aide, during the course of the interaction, Mitra also claimed contact with another — if not more — powerful force. More of it later.)
On the bedside table are two mobile phones and a white box with the Apple logo. Underneath lies a wireless landline phone and two suitcases. These constitute his “office in hospital”, through which he is running his ministry. Point to note: Mitra cannot be accused of putting personal care before public service.
The minister sits up on the bed, calls for one of his several aides stationed in the long corridor and asks for medicines.
Bottles containing syrups are stacked on a small table at one end of the room. Medicine strips, an anti-septic lotion, a bandage and painkillers are strewn all over.
Mitra asks for the one his psychiatrist has prescribed — Trazodone Hydrochloride, usually used to treat depression. According to a doctor at Pavlov Mental Hospital in Park Circus, the medicine balances the levels of serotonin in the brain to reduce the occurrence of symptoms such as feelings of guilt, fatigue or hopelessness.
If opponents are lunging at the medicine and seeing potential evidence against him, a disclaimer: Mitra admits nothing.
“Probably they (the CBI) are relying on what Bapi (Karim, Mitra’s former confidential assistant who was grilled by the agency in August) has had to say…. He was no one when I had first picked him up. Today he is a different man who has done very well for himself,” Mitra says.
“The allegation against me is that I have been making calls to collect money. Well….”
As in public life, so in hospital room. Mitra, almost always surrounded with hangers-on, be it at his Bhowanipore home or his office, has no dearth of visitors.
But no one from the party has come to visit him since his admission on Sunday. “Let’s not get into all this. My only point of contact is Mamata Banerjee. She did call up from Delhi and we have spoken,” Mitra says and breaks into a smile — the first time he is doing so since this reporter entered the room.
The aide who is banking on stone-appeased supernatural powers does not seem to have been told of the call from Delhi.
“I have informed the CBI that I will turn up. They have called me as a witness and I will go. But my doctors should certify my fitness,” Mitra adds.
Tea is wheeled in and one of the aides hands Mitra a cup. Green tea without sugar for the minister who is apparently in need of anti-oxidants.
“I am a diabetic,” Mitra says. “I also suffer from acute breathlessness and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I used to be a heavy smoker but have quit.”
A knock on the door and an aide enters with a chit.
“The work of concretisation of tram tracks is over on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road. There is an invitation for re-opening it. There is also CSTC board meeting and…,” the aide informs the minister.
The minister instructs him to inform those concerned that everything should go ahead even if he is not around.
It’s visiting hour. Mitra’s family — two sons, one daughter-in-law and wife — walks in. They settle around his bed and the minister looks happy.
As the conversation picks up, one of Mitra’s lawyers steps in. This correspondent steps out. Outside, an aide says a lawyer — he was not sure whether the same person was inside — had gone to the CBI office in Salt Lake, probably to inform the agency that Mitra would turn up after he is declared fit. A Friday appearance looks unlikely.
Soon, the lawyer leaves, making room for other visitors, including this correspondent.
“You know what, I have learnt to keep my family away from all this. Why should they be affected,” Mitra says and smiles — again.
“It’s my battle and I will fight it out.”
-The Telegraph, Calcutta