In Bengal’svolatile political atmosphere, don’t expect the multi-crore rupee Sarada chit fund scam to go away anytime soon. The only reason it has not claimed chief minister Mamata Bannerjee’sscalp so far is that arch rival CPM too could be involved.
Suspended Trinamool Congress (TMC) Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh’sin-camera confession recorded a day before his arrest in connection with the Sarada scam, has put the heat on Mamata and her party.
Kunal did what a man does when faced with impolite official inquiries: he named dozens of top ruling TMC leaders – including the chief minister herself – and influential party general secretary Mukul Roy, raising questions about Mamata’strademark honesty and the involvement of party colleagues in one of the biggest ever chit fund scams to have surfaced in recent times.
The chief minister’sposition has been aggressive, to say the least. Soon after the scam broke out, Mamata queried: “Did we ask them to deposit [the] money?” Since then, she has stuck to her guns. Addressing an extended session of the TMC’sworking committee at the Kshudiram Anushilan Kendra, she spelt out the party’sstrategy to “counter the conspiracy to spread canards” about her government in the Sarada issue. She went a step further suggesting, not too subtly, that the CPM keep their mouths shut for another ten years. Mamata also threatened party members for their involvement into chit fund rackets in the guise of raising party funds. She said, “If the situation arises, we will go begging from door to door, but won't run our party on chit fund money. We have never had links with chit fund wallahs.’’ She held the CPM responsible for the chit fund exposure.
Kunal Ghosh’ssensational disclosures have forced CPM and state Congress into action; they are planning state-wide protests demanding that all those named by him, including Mamata, be interrogated in connection with the scam.
Sticking to his demand of an ‘impartial investigation’, leader of opposition Suryakanta Mishra told media, that there “should not be two rules for different groups of people in a single crime. If the chief minister of Karnataka and union ministers could be arrested, what is the problem here?” Mishra has also demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe. “Mamata Banerjee is a symbol of honesty, why is she so worried?’’ he said.
Left MLAs even boycotted the assembly session and walked out moments before Mamata’soutburst against the latest revelations. Her main rival CPM has maintained a quiet profile after being ousted from power in 2011. In the last couple of years, CPM has maintained a studied silence on a series of public issues like the Park Street-Kamduni-Katwa rape case, the Hooch tragedy that took 200 lives in Bengal, irregularities in primary and school level teachers’ appointment, potato crisis and several other embarrassments. “Neither the Left Front, nor their mass organizations have played the genuine role of opposition. The CPM has skirted the Sarada scam, probably for the fear of being exposed,” says analyst Trirthankar Acharya.
The situation was aggravated recently when eminent educationist Sunanda Sanyal was detained at the Bidhannagar police station for an hour along with 24 other activists, including Samir Putatunda of the PDS, Naxalite leader Ashim Chatterjee, Congress MLA Sukhbilas Barma and CPM’sSujan Chakraborty when they were on way to submit a deputation demanding a CBI investigation into the scam.
Ironically, Sanyal, Putatunda and Chatterjee were leading lights of the pro-poribartan (change) brigade whose support for Mamata Banerjee proved to be the turning factor in the assembly elections that ousted the Left Front government.
Sanyal told TSI: “In a multi-party democracy, opposition parties and intellectuals should play a constructive role. Before ‘porivartan’ took place, I believed Mamata would never be like the Left rulers. After being manhandled by the police, I have lost faith on her. I believe the police was just following orders.’’ According to eminent poet and economist Tarun Sanyal, “The public perception is that Mamata is fair, only the party is at fault. But I feel there is nothing wrong with the workers, all the mischief is happening at her directions. Sunanda Sanayal has paid the price for criticizing the chief minister.’’
At the same time, operating under a political banner, the Democratic Citizen’sForum has already lodged a case in the Supreme Court. Forum member Amitabh Majumder told TSI: “The CPM cannot hide. They have to take responsibility. It was during their time that chit fund companies thrived unchecked. If TMC is responsible for the 25 percent, then CPM must take the responsibility of the other 75.’’
Majumder alleges that a genuine CBI enquiry would reveal the involvement of CPM leaders. The forum, quite apolitically, has demanded a CBI enquiry not just into this scam but into the roles of about 1,500 similar chit-fund companies in eastern India.
According to the Chit Fund Associations of India (CFAI), a chit fund must carry the word ‘Chit’ along with their name; and as per law, such a company is not allowed to accept deposits from the public and can only accept a subscription amount from members. The Sarada Group, however, accepted deposits from all manner of investors, which investigators say is against rules and smells of a scam. Back in the 1980s, the Sanchayita scam duped millions of such gullible investors in Bengal. It seems to be a similar story all over again.