Black Money Matters In Power Struggle
With the scorching heat of summer, the political temperature is rising in poll-bound West Bengal after CPIM’s new face, State Housing Minister Gautam Deb accused the Trinamool Congress of using black money for ongoing West Bengal assembly elections.
After charging the strongest rival for murder, clashes and gun-battle, the ruling CPIM accused the Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee of distributing ill-gotten money for poll campaign. Aggressive Gautam Deb claimed that fake coupons were issued to prove that the funds had been collected through public donations. “All except one of the 226 Trinamool candidates have been given Rs 15 lakh each in cash. From where did they get this huge amount of Rs 33.9 crore?” Housing Minister Gautam Deb asked at a media conference in Kolkata. Responding to the allegation, a belligerent Mamata Banerjee said, “We will not answer any Tom, Dick and Harry. Who is he to seek answers from us on this? Having looted the state for 34 years, do they have the audacity to ask such questions?”
COLOURS OF CAMPAIGN
The allegation of black money may be true or not. But it is clear that from Tamil Nadu to West Bengal, money has become an important political variable. Moving around the districts, Kolkata and sub-urban areas of the poll-bound state, it is found how money is playing the most crucial role to turn the political wheel of West Bengal.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee set out on a maiden road-show in his Jadavpur constituency with thousands of red flag fluttered in the summer breeze, giant cut-outs of the CPIM’s “sickle, hammer and star” symbol and supporters’ repeated chants of inquilab zindabad and “comrade Bhattacharjee’s lal salaam”. Mamata Banerjee was not far behind. She made her whirlwind campaign in north Bengal for five days by helicopter whose bill was provided by Congress party. According to the prevailing rates between Rs 1.20 lakh and Rs 1.30 lakh per hour, the cost of the chopper campaign was around Rs 1 crore.
The workers of the two political adversaries are engaged in a virtual war in painting every wall of Bengal with its own colours, symbols, names of the candidates and awful political messages about the opposite contenders. While the supporters made a life-size cut-out of ten-handed Mamata Banerjee at Siliguri, comparing her with “Maa Durga”, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (in wall painting) was looking for an escape from “Duronto Express”. In a few wall-paintings, he has been compared with a large panther that is sucking the development of West Bengal. Cars, tempos, auto rickshaws and even the bicycles made their presence in rallies in the districts of Burdwan, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas etc. “For us, the election campaigns are like family occasions where people gather for work together, eat together and share thoughts with each other. The party is arranging cold drinks and biriyani for those who paint the walls throughout the day and distribute manifestos door-to-door,” said a local party worker from Gaighata constituency in North 24 Parganas.
Panchayat Elections in Jammu & Kashmir
SIGN OF INTRINSIC OPTIMISM
Twenty-five-year-old Farooqi (name changed due to security reasons) was arrested allegedly for stone pelting during last summer turmoil and this week in Kashmir, he took his turn standing in long queue outside Ganderbal polling station to cast his vote to elect village head for his village. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah represents Ganderbal in state Assembly. “There are two FIRs against me. I participated in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 protests. But these elections are for the development of our village, while the protests were against injustice,” he said.
What a transformation. Only few months back, he was against the Indian rule, pelting stones at Indian security personnel and government properties. When asked what made him believe in Indian democracy he said, “I want development of my village, better amenities for my village, such as water, roads, schools and power and would like my younger brothers to study hard and rise to some better position unlike me, who by playing into hands of some vested interests took to unlawful path and caused embarrassment to my family.”
Hundreds of voters queued up to vote at Lar in Ganderbal despite the morning chill. “I’ve come to vote with my entire family because one of the candidates is our neighbour,” said a youth, Riaz Ahmed. From farmers to contractors to private schools teachers, fashion models, imams, housewives, singers and even labourers and former terrorists, everybody has joined the fray in the panchayat polls.
Kashmiris defied targeted killings, adverse weather and boycott calls to vote in droves, recording an unprecedented 78 and 93 per cent so far in two phases of the elections. In fact, the present turnout is a huge jump even on the 2008 assembly election when the average was 70 per cent. The high voter turnout is not marred by a violent attack and the subsequent death of a woman candidate, Kashmiris are determined to take control of village governance to resolve day-to-day issues.
However, the anti-social elements did try to create fear among people as they shot dead a woman candidate in Budgam. Haseena Akhtar, 45, was allegedly killed by separatists at Karpora village, in Pakharpora area. While police are yet to connect Haseena Akhtar’s killing with the polls, the family says the gunmen asked her why she was contesting before opening fire.
Interestingly, a 27-year-old model has come all the way from Mumbai to contest the panchayat polls for the sarpanch post of Lachipora, a remote village right on the Line of Control in Uri. Son of a policeman, Mir with a poll symbol of candle wants education, health and drinking water besides schools for his area.
Four women of the Sheikopora village contest the elections. “If I get elected, I will work for the betterment of the village. We will force the government to provide us better roads and uninterrupted electricity,” 33-year-old Masarat Bano said. Another candidate, Manzoora, said: “I will work to redress the problems of women and help the youth of the village get jobs.” Ghulam Mohammad Magray (50), a former terrorist is contesting for Zachaldara village head post in Handwara. His poll symbol is a comb.
The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is so enthused with so far successful conduct of elections that he has put up a post by a fellow tweeter on his Twitter page that said the panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir could be called the first in 33 years and the one held in 2000 was only on paper. The post attributed to RT @nazir_masoodi said, “In reality this is 1st panchayat election after 33 years. 2000 was only on papers. More than 1/2 of seats remained empty.”
Though the elections are being held on non-party basis, locals argue that political parties such as National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, Congress and Peoples Conference have fielded their candidates. And the Congress is hoping to cash in on the resumption of Indo-Pak talks. The last panchayat elections, held after a gap of 23 years, were conducted in the state in 2001-02 and the next edition was due in 2006 but could not be held due to various reasons, especially the fragile security situation. The 2000 elections were held when Farooq Abdullah was chief minister.
At many places, people had not exercised their franchise because of the fear of terrorists. Over 5 million people are to cast their ballots in 30,000 panchayati constituencies in the 16-phase polls choosing 4,130 village heads in 143 developmental blocks of Jammu and Kashmir. The elections will come to an end on June 30. Barring a few posters warning people against voting, Kashmiri separatist groups have largely remained unconspicuous to the polls that have already seen two successful phases.
Having got a snub in the 2008 assembly when people came out in huge numbers to cast ballot, the separatist this time are wary—they have termed the polls inconsequential and likened it to power, water and roads issues. Voters said they have seen enough violence in the last 20 years; the woman candidate’s killing would not deter them. “We’ve seen a lot in the past 20 years. This election is about local issues,” said another voter.
The mood was optimistic and tension absent. A voter said people no longer run home for fear of terror attacks; they linger around in sheds watching raindrops, drinking tea. This is another striking thing about the panchayat election in Kashmir: Voters are discussing IPL matches and Facebook. There are no words like “terrorist”, “rockets” and “killed” discussed. The mood seems to have swept villages across all parts of the state from Kupwara, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Budgam and Kulgam, which in Kashmir recorded a turnout of 85 per cent, 87 per cent, 85 per cent, 77 per cent, 81 per cent respectively while Udhampur, Samba and Jammu in Jammu division recorded a turnout of 77 per cent, 84 per cent and 83 per cent, respectively.
The polls are taking place amid speculations that the government wants to divert people’s attention to pre-empt unrest in the summers. The government denies this. “There’s no politics in it. If we don’t conduct the polls, the state will lose Rs 1,000 crore granted for panchayat development,” Panchayati Raj Minister Ali Muhammad Sagar said. About 32,000 ballot boxes have been requisitioned for the polls, he said, as the state’s Panchayat Raj Act does not allow the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
The high voter turnout reflects a heightened awareness of local issues and rivalries. It also displays the boundless optimism younger voters have for the electoral process. It is this youthful section of our polity that is already having the greatest impact on political dynamics. While much of this phenomenon has not been fully understood, some broad features are already discernible.
Recent surveys and studies suggest that the younger generation in this country tends to be more pragmatic than ideological, less prone to deification and not at all awed by the past. Theirs is a practical generation for whom voting is a way to make a statement or change things. Their cause may be a collective sentiment, a sectional goal or a purely local issue, but their voting decision is not dictated by partisan, historical, or traditional concerns.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Srinagar
CENTRE’S NOD FOR CBI PROBE
Opposition Fires Salvo At Naveen In Odisha
It seems that bad fate is fast chasing Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Twofold jolt—Union Government’s decision for a CBI probe into Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scam and apex court’s refusal to stay the Pollavaram Project construction work—has put the Naveen Patnaik government in an awkward situation. After the Union Government informed the Supreme Court on April 11 that it has decided to order a CBI probe into embezzlement of funds meant for implementation of the rural job guarantee scheme in Odisha and would soon issue a notification for it, the BJD ministers, party functionaries and bureaucrats together find themselves in a dock. Undoubtedly, the Naveen Patnaik government’s claim of being honest and transparent stands exposed. In fact, for the first time in Odisha, a CBI probe has been ordered into charges of corruption against the backdrop of the continuous denial by the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself relating to the scam at the direction of the apex court. Further, with Panchayat elections due in February next year, the CBI probe may cost dear to BJD in the state. After the Supreme Court’s direction for the CBI probe into the alleged Rs 500-crore scam in the implementation of the MGNREGA, an eerie silence reigned in the otherwise hustle bustle of state secretariat in Bhubaneswar and BJD camp, while the opposition Congress and BJP, the estranged allies of the BJD, did not miss the chance to condemn the state government saying “it has lost its face”. There is finally something for the opposition leaders in Odisha to smile in the wake of the CBI probe ordered into job scam in the state.
The court’s directions came after Prashant Bhushan, counsel appearing for NGO ‘Centre for Environment and Food Security’, submitted that as per the reports, there was misappropriation of funds between 53 per cent and 88 per cent in the districts of Kalahandi, Keonjhar, Nabarangpur, Bolangir, Raygada, Malkangiri and Koraput.
Intrestingly, the state government had submitted two affidavits in the Supreme Court stating that there has been no corruption or misappropriation of funds in the MNREGA. The government also denied both in and outside the Assembly that there were no irregularities and rejected the opposition parties’ demand for a CBI probe. Now with the Centre giving its consent for a CBI investigation at the direction of the Supreme Court, the BJD government has no other option but to probe the embezzlement into MGNREGA scheme. This apart, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is the head of the State Council which monitors and supervises execution of work under MGNREGA. Therefore, he cannot escape responsibilities after the Centre informing the Supreme Court about its plan to conduct a CBI probe into the matter. The Delhi-based Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS), pointed out that though the irregularities surfaced way back in 2007, the state government did not take note of its findings. The state government then appointed Hyderabad-based National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) to find truth behind allegations made by CEFS. The NIRD, in its survey, also found massive irregularities and misappropriation of funds.
The apex court was hearing a public interest litigation filed in 2007 by the CEFS, alleging large-scale corruption in the implementation of the MGNREGA that provides for legally-guaranteed 100 days of employment to at least one member of each rural household. The union government recently informed the Supreme Court that it has agreed for a CBI probe into alleged irregularities in implementation of schemes under the centrally sponsored National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in Odisha. Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told a bench of Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justices KS Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar that the formality of issuing a notification entrusting the investigation to CBI would be completed in two weeks.
The court had rapped the union and state governments for their failure to discharge their duties under the NREGA aimed at providing “right to livelihood” to millions of poor and hungry in the hinterlands. Noting the disbursal of Rs 33,506 crore out of a total available fund of Rs 42,529 crore for the year 2009-10, the bench had raised serious doubts about the money reaching the needy without being diverted or misappropriated. The court found that the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha was one of the worst implementers of the social welfare scheme and asked it to furnish details of utilisation of funds given under NREGA from 2006 till 2010.
“Let the state government show cause why allegations relating to diversion of funds and irregular utilisation of the funds be not handed over to CBI,” the bench said in its judgment. The bench, on April 11, was furious at the non-filing of affidavit by the Odisha government and gave it two weeks to provide the information. When petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan said identical irregularities were detected in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and wanted the court to seek the responses of these two states, the bench said it would proceed systematically and deal with a state at a time. During the hearing Indira Jaisingh also submitted before the court a letter written by the Ministry of Rural Development to the CBI requesting the investigating agency to probe into the alleged corruption in the implementation of MGNREGA in Odisha. The letter was written on April 4 last.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre decided to order CBI probe as the apex court during the last hearing on March 14 had clearly said that if the centre failed to take decision within four weeks, it would step in to pass an order for CBI investigation. The apex court on December 16 observed that the Union of India as well as the state of Odisha, prima facie, had failed to effectively and purposefully implement the provisions of the Act (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005). “This has resulted in the deprivation of the entitled class from getting employment and receiving the allowances due to them in terms of the statutory guarantees available to them under the Act,” said a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia. “We call upon both the Union of India and the state government to show cause as to why there should not be a direction to the CBI to investigate this matter in accordance with law,” said the court.
The petition, filed by CEFS in the apex court in January 2008, highlighted that most of the funds issued under the scheme were not reaching the intended beneficiaries. Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan asked for effective execution of NREGA and schemes envisaged under the Act and pleaded that directions be issued for fixing responsibility on the chief secretary and district collector. A survey conducted by CEFS, between May and June 2007, revealed that in 100 villages of six KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) districts, the NREGA was virtually hijacked by officials implementing the scheme. Out of the 100 villages surveyed, there was not a single case where entries in the job cards were correct.
CEFS source reveals that a field study carried out on implementation of NREGA in Odisha reveal: “Most of the funds allocated for NREGA do not reach intended beneficiaries and are instead siphoned off by corrupt officials and contractors, thereby denying crores of poor people their fundamental right to livelihood and other incidental fundamental rights like the right to food and education.” The CEFS, which is now conducting a similar exercise regarding implementation of NREGA in Madhya Pradesh, says out of Rs 733 crore spent under NREGA in Odisha during 2006-07, more than Rs 500 crore were misappropriated by government officials of implementing agencies. There are thousands of villages in Odisha where around 80-90 per cent of NREGA funds have been misappropriated by executing officials.
Seeking extension of the proposed CBI probe into the rural job scam under MGNREGA to all the 30 districts of Odisha, opposition BJP held Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik responsible for the misuse of public money. BJP leader and former Minister Bijoy Mohapatra, in a press conference held at Bhubaneswar on April 12, remarked that the state government’s claim of being honest and transparent was proved “wrong” by the apex court. Crores of public money were diverted, misappropriated and misutilised under MGNREGA, he said.
He further said since such allegations of corruption, diversion of funds and misappropriation were also reported in other districts, the CBI’s probe must cover all the districts under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court. Mohapatra said that the corruption and irregularities in the scheme in the state surfaced in 2006, but the BJD-led government had been claiming that there was no bungling despite the fact that the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) had pointed out large-scale irregularities in the implementation of the scheme and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had indicated to the government about the massive bungling. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik after his return from Delhi told the mediapersons in Bhubaneswar to abide by the apex court’s order on MGNREGA and Pollavaram issue.
Eleven years after he came to power in 2000 and regularly refuting charges of numerous scams and scandals that rocked the image of his government, Odisha Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik now finds himself in the dock. Whether, India’s top investigating agency, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), would be able to expose the corrupt officials involved in the MGNREGA scam? The answer to this question might be available in the next couple of days when it starts the investigation.
By Kishore Dash from Bhubaneswar
“Naveen is responsible for MGNREGA embezzlement”—Bijoy Mohapatra, BJP Leader
Are you confidant that CBI would be able to get hold of the top-level officials involved in the MGNREGA scam?
Certainly. See, for the first time in Odisha, the central investigating agency, CBI, has been asked to probe into the rip off at the direction of the Supreme Court to look into the 500-crore MGNREGA bungling, taking into consideration the staidness of the PIL filed by the Delhi-based NGO, CESF in the matter.
So the CBI is expected to unfold the large-scale financial and procedural irregularities in the implementation of the massive livelihood programme.
How is the Chief Minister responsible for the misuse of the public money?
The Chief Minister is head of the State Council which monitors and supervises execution of work under MGNREGA. Therefore, he cannot escape responsibilities after the Centre informed the Supreme Court about its plan to conduct a CBI probe into the matter.
Prima facie, it is established that Naveen Patnaik government is corrupt and dishonest. The apex court has also observed that the allegations against the state government are serious. The CM and the ministers in charge of Panchayat Raj department, since 2006-2007, who are now accused in the case, should be brought under the purview of CBI probe.
Do you think that the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s claim of running an honest and transparent government has proved to be hollow?
Yes. As the state government has already lost the case in the apex court, Naveen Patnaik’s claim of handling the affairs of the state in a limpid manner has been exposed. What is more galling is that the CAG report revealed that Rs 8.44 crore were spent without any approval from a competent authority.
Will the bureaucrats involved in the MGNREGA bungling be exposed by the CBI?
I do hope so. The funds under the rural job scheme were utilised even for landscaping, developing gardens and repairing office buildings. An amount of Rs 55.58 lakh was spent on setting up a garden at the official residence of a collector of district in Odisha which needs to be probed by the CBI to reveal the truth.
Interviewed by Kishore Dash
“CBI is competent to unearth the MGNREGA scam” —Narasingh Mishr, Congress Leader and National Law Commission Member
How far would the CBI be able to unfold the rural job scam in Odisha?
The CBI is so far the highest investigating agency in the country. I am confident that the agency would come out with flying colours while probing the scam in a most efficient manner. Undoubtedly, the nation’s apex investigating agency is up to snuff to divulge the misdeeds of Naveen Patnaik government once the probe begins.
In what way is the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik responsible for the MGNREGA bungling in the state?
Being the head the State Council, which monitors and supervises execution of work under MGNREGA, Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik is liable for the lapse made by the state government while executing the employment guarantee scheme.
If CBI is so competent in exposing the corruption and depraved officials, what made noted social activist and Gandhian Anna Hazare to sit on a fast-unto-death dharana at Jantar Mantar in Delhi demanding changes in the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill?
I differ with you on this point. Anna Hazare has not uttered a single word against the CBI. Anti-corruption Lokpal Bill and CBI as an investigating agency are two different things. I am certain that CBI will do a good investigation and would not spare any body, including whosoever included in the rural job scam in Odisha. The CBI, which is going to begin the probe within a couple of days, would do its best to punish the persons involved in the scam.
Interviewed by Kishore Dash
While Ajit Dutta, owner of a kite shop in Kolkata, is busy these days in making kites bearing various party symbols, sweets in different political symbols are being sold at a shop in Howrah district. At a rally in Kolkata, a TMC activist was found with a special haircut displaying Trinamool Congress and its alliance Congress symbols together. Women supporters of Trinamool Congress took out an election campaign wearing sarees printed in Trinamool symbol of Jora Ghas Phool. The symbol of two flowers was designed by Mamata Banerjee herself. To beat the heat, fashionable hand fans were distributed in Trinamool campaigns carrying the slogan of Ma, Mati, Manush (mother, soil and people).
The festival of colours, which is known as Dol Yatra in West Bengal, was celebrated on the basis of political colour this time. “The Trinamool followers preferred green colour, the Left-dominated areas were turned red. With the wave of Parivartan, we purchased green colour during Holi at a much higher cost. Use of vests, hats and T-shirts turned out more expensive than wall-writings and graffiti for political campaigns”, said Premangshu Mishra from Burrabazar.
Tapas Roy, a Trinamool candidate who is contesting from Barahanagar booked a house named “Sharada Palace” for his election campaigns as he is not a permanent resident of the constituency. “The house is given on rent for marriage and other auspicious occasions at Rs 15,000 a day,” informed Sudipta Bhattacharchya, a neighbourhood. Sukumar Ghosh, a Left candidate from the same area has taken a flat near Dunlop, probably the highest-rented place of the constituency. “Now-a-days the major political parties such as Trinamool Congress and CPIM are relying on cyber-campaigns to reach out to an increasingly tech-savvy electorate like never before. Party websites have become informative, interactive and are updated continuously”, said Ivy Basu, a first-year student of Calcutta University and strong supporter of Trinamool Congress like his father.
Though money is leaking in every nook and corner of the state and helps few distributors of loudspeakers, bamboos, lights, fans and the transporters to make money, the situation is healthier than the other poll-bound southern state like Tamil Nadu, where it has been reported that even the mortuary vans with unidentified orphan dead bodies are used for transferring money for election purpose, cash assistance has been declared candidly in the manifestos of both the ruling and the opposition.
By S Roy from Kolkata