Actor-politician Tapas Paul’s death has set off an ugly war of words in West Bengal, with chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday blaming the Centre’s “vendetta politics” for it, and the Opposition hitting back insisting “neglect and mistreatment” by the TMC caused his demise. Paul, a two-term former TMC MP, died at the age of 61 in Mumbai on Tuesday after a heart attack. The actor-turned-politician was an accused in the Rose Valley chit fund scam case and was in jail for over a year.

He was the brand ambassador of the Rose Valley group. Banerjee, while paying homage to Paul, alleged that another TMC leader Sultan Ahmed had also died of cardiac arrest as he was under stress after being named an accused in the Narada tapes scandal of 2016. Ahmed, a former Union minister, had died in 2017. The wife of party MP Prasun Banerjee, too, died because of the Centre’s “vengeful” politics, the TMC supremo claimed. Prasun Banerjee’s name had also cropped up in the Narada tapes scandal and was subjected to interrogation by both the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI.

Narada scandal was a sting operation in which several top TMC leaders were purportedly shown on video accepting bribes for extending favours. “Tapas Paul was under tremendous pressure from central agencies and was a victim of the Centre’s vendetta politics,” she told reporters at Rabindra Sadan where Paul’s mortal remains were kept for people to pay homage. Praising Paul for his work in films such as Dadar Kirti and Saheb,the chief minister said actors and artistes are associated with several organisations as brand ambassadors.

“But is this a fault for which he (Paul) had to spend more than one year in jail? Is this right? This is pure political vendetta,” she said. Even charge-sheets in murder cases are filed within three months, the chief minister said. She said the same was the case with film producer Shrikant Mohta and a veteran journalist who had been incarcerated for a long time.

“I’ve heard that Mohta too had suffered a heart attack. He also is languishing in jail, but the Central agency did not even file any charge sheet,” she said. Meanwhile, opposition parties in the state set aside their ideological differences today to challenge chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s contention that former Trinamul Congress MP Tapas Paul died owing to “vendetta politics” of the Centre. Left, Congress and BJP leaders accused the chief minister of politicising a death adding neither she nor her party extended moral support to the deceased film star turned MP in his hour of need when he was in prison for 13 months in connection with his involvement in Rose Valley Chit fund case.

BJP state president and Kharagpur MP Dilip Ghosh said, “Paul’s party did not help him anymore when he was reeling in crisis especially after his arrest in the Rose Valley chit fund scam. Even Paul’s family members alleged that the party did not bother to enquire about him, which is an unfortunate part of his life,” said Ghosh. There is no point in blaming the Union government as Tapas did not receive the moral support he deserved from his party in his hour of need, the BJP leader said.

Paul was a good actor, but following his involvement in chit fund scam he withdrew from active politics and communicated to the TMC his unwillingness to contest elections since his leadership had earlier distanced itself from him, he said. Congress MP Pradip Bhattacharya described Banerjee’s comments as a “perverted way” of using the occasion of a dead person’s last journey “to score political brownie points”. CPI(M) legislative party leader Sujan Chakraborty, too, wondered what made Banerjee so sympathetic towards Paul whom the party “neglected” after his arrest.

Sharply reacting to Banerjee’s comments, Union minister Babul Supriyo said, “She has little or no respect for Tapas Paul. He never got due respect in Trinamul Congress. TMC is a party mired in corruption. “Lauding Paul as one of the finest actors of Bengali cinema, BJP state vice president Jaiprakash Majumdar claimed the TMC had “neglected” Paul after his arrest. Paul’s mortal remains were consigned to flames at Keoratala burning ghat with full state honours in the afternoon.