|Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at the|
Bhubaneswar airport. Picture by Ashwinee Pati
Subhashish Mohanty and Lelin Kumar Mallick, TT, Bhubaneswar, April 18: Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee arrived here late this evening to meet two of her ailing party leaders who have been arrested in a deposit collection scam.
From the airport, Mamata drove straight to Apollo Hospitals to meet the two arrested Trinamul Congress MPs, Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Paul. The duo have been undergoing treatment there after their arrest in the Rose Valley deposit collection scam.
The special CBI court, which has been monitoring the case, today granted permission to Mamata to meet the MPs in the hospital. Four others were allowed to accompany Mamata.
"I am here to meet Sudip Bandyopadhyay. He is our parliamentary party leader. I will also meet Tapas Paul. Both are ailing," Mamata, who is on a three-day visit to the state, told newspersons at Biju Patnaik International Airport soon after landing around 8.30pm.
Mamata spent around 35 minutes with Paul, a leading Bengali film star, and Bandyopadhyay.
"Thanks to the judiciary for giving me the opportunity to meet my MPs, including Sudip, our parliamentary party leader," Mamata said after coming out of the hospital.
"He (Sudip) is not keeping well. He is not mentally well and not eating properly. I spoke with doctors and they have assured me they would take care of the health of our MPs," she added.
Asked whether the CBI was politicising the investigation in the case, Mamata said the people will "give us justice". "Our party is the third largest recognised by the Election Commission. People will give us justice," she said.
Mamata though did not confirm if she will meet her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik and brushed aside talk of a pact with the BJD on the upcoming presidential poll.
"I have no idea... if I get information I will let you know. Recently, I met Naveen in Delhi. If I get time, I will meet him," she said. Naveen too had said earlier in the day there were "no plans yet" of a meeting with Mamata.
The CBI arrested Trinamul MPs Paul and Bandyopadhyay on December 30, 2016, and January 3, 2017, respectively, in Calcutta in connection with the Rose Valley scam. They were taken on custody to Bhubaneswar for questioning in the cases filed in Odisha. Since their health condition deteriorated in jail, they were first sent to government hospitals and then shifted to Apollo Hospitals in the city.
From the hospital, Mamata headed for Puri, 60km away. Tomorrow, she will visit the 12th century Jagannath temple.
Mamata's visit to the temple touched off a controversy with a group of BJP workers opposing her entry as she had "supported beef-eaters". The police detained Puri district BJP Yuva Morcha general secretary Somnath Khuntia, 48, who is also a servitor at the temple, following his statement that he and his supporters would not allow Mamata to enter the shrine.
Khuntia told The Telegraph over telephone from the police station today: "As she is supporting the beef-eaters, she should not be allowed to enter the temple. Non-Hindus, including Muslims, Christians and people who consume beef, are not allowed inside the temple."
The BJP's Puri district president, Pravanjan Mohapatra, distanced himself from Khuntia's statement. "It is his personal view," he said.
A handful of BJP supporters staged a demonstration in front of Puri Town police station opposing Mamata's visit and demanding Khuntia's release. They also burnt Mamata's effigies.
But senior servitors said Mamata would be given a "grand welcome".
Jagannath Swain Mohapatra, 64, the chief badagrahi or "protector" of Lord Jagananth's chariot, told The Telegraph : "No one should oppose her visit. She is a pious lady. Her visit should not be politicised. Many leaders from various parties visit the temple, and we welcome all. Why should there be any opposition to her visit?"
"We will accord her a grand welcome at the entrance to the temple. She is our guest and a great devotee of Lord Jagannath. I will personally take her inside the temple. I will present her a khandua (ceremonial scarf)," Mohapatra said.