According to the Economic Times report, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has seized at least two dozen paintings by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The seized paintings were bought by businessmen involved in running various Ponzi schemes. The CBI is also working in the direction to determine the actual price of these seized paintings. Once the team of evaluators employed by CBI finishes valuation work for all these paintings, a report will be sent to the central agencies, and then the market valuation will be compared with the prices that the fraudulent companies remunerated to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) for the seized paintings.
According to the investigators, the money which TMC received from the sale of paintings, is the investors’ money and the proceeds of crime as well.
Buying and selling of Mamata Banerjee’s paintings have always been marred with controversies. Last year also, the CBI seized twenty paintings of CM Mamata Banerjee from chit-fund firm owners. At that time, the Economic Times quoted a senior CBI official saying, “We are investigating the sale of paintings and the money received. Even if we do not get into the valuation part, we are probing whether the chit fund owners have bought the paintings to enrich their art collection or to please the ruling party. In some cases, it was found that they only had the CM’s paintings and no other pieces of art.” The CBI insiders have alleged that Trinamool Congress has earned a few crores of rupees through the sale of the paintings.
In 2014 there were news reports claiming that promoter of Saradha chit fund, Sudipta Sen, purchased one of Mamata Banerjee’s paintings for Rs. 1.8 crore. The Times of India had quoted its CBI sources saying, “Though Sen had then denied having bought any of Mamata’s paintings, the I-T returns filed by Trinamool Congress show that his group indeed acquired one.”
In the run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi also taunted Mamata Banerjee over the sale of her paintings at such a high amount. He had said, “Mamataji, I know you are a good painter and your paintings used to sell for 4 lakhs, sometimes for 8 lakhs, sometimes for 15. But kya baat hai, why did it once sell for 1 crore?” He corrected himself and said actually 1 crore 80 Lakh. He also said, “I respect the arts, But who was the person who gave that 1 crore, 80 lakhs?”
There are only a few Indian painters who are as highly rated as to get such huge prices for their paintings. Just to put things into perspective, at a saffronart auction, M F Husain’s Holy was sold for Rs 2.6 crore, Francis Souza’s The Priest managed to get Rs 1.6 crore, Kolkata-based Jogen Chowdhury entered the Rs 1-crore club in 2006. This is sufficient to explain the hype around Mamata’s painting which managed to get 1.80 crore rupees.
In 2016, Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Abdul Mannan, had said, “Our CM is very talented. She had said that three strokes of her brush can fetch Rs 10 lakh and we have seen that her paintings at exhibitions have been sold for Rs 1.86 crore.” After all this, TMC MLAs tried to shout him down.
In 2016, during campaigning for the Kolkata municipal polls, Mamata Banerjee said her paintings fetched Rs. 9 crores. Interestingly, just two days before this, the painting was said to be of Rs 2 crore; a growth of 450% in just 48 hours.
For those unaware, the painting business is another way of converting black into white. A painting made by some famous politician or minister’s relatives is bought by businessmen with a shady background at high prices. In such a case, it is almost next to impossible to know about its actual cost. Same is the case with the film industry also.