Mamata Digging Her Own Grave?
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the CPI (M) and sections of the Congress in West Bengal claimed Mamata Banerjee would eventually support, directly or indirectly, the BJP and Narendra Modi. Six months on, that charge seems laughable. Despite the efforts of senior ministers in the Modi government, who have gone out of their way to humour Banerjee and assure her government in Kolkata of cooperation, she remains a difficult client.
The uncovering of an Islamist module in West Bengal’s Burdwan district has implications for both Bangladesh and in the longer run, for India. To be fair, it cannot be entirely blamed on the TMC government. It is quite likely that the terror factory exploited a network of contacts and resources built in the CPI (M) years, which ended only in 2011.
Banerjee’s colleagues insist she is worried by the rise in Muslim radicalism, particularly in districts bordering Bangladesh, and often speaks about it at closed-door meetings. If this is the case, it certainly does not seem so to the rest of the country. Far from being nuanced and careful with their words, Banerjee and her MPs have been loud and irresponsible. They have dismissed the Burdwan findings as a conspiracy masterminded by the Union government, along the way accusing the National Security Advisor and the officials of the National Investigation Agency of being RSS agents.
For all her over-the-top theatrics, Banerjee is a shrewd politician. By offering the Congress and the CPI (M) a partnership to fight for “secularism” but no electoral alliance, she is only making those parties acutely aware of their diminished status in West Bengal. The Congress is down to two districts – Murshidabad and Malda. The CPI (M) is in disarray and facing the problem of the defection of its workers, first to the TMC and more recently to the BJP.
The Muslim vote is extremely important in West Bengal. Muslims make up about 30 per cent of the electorate but tend to vote in junkets than non-Muslims, giving their vote a much more effectiveness. Banerjee calculates Muslims will be opposed to the BJP in all circumstances and will vote for her as the default choice. In particular, she is hoping those Muslims who still back the Congress will move to her.
By being patronising towards the Congress and the CPI (M) – even while uttering sweet nothings about a “secular platform” – Banerjee is driving home the message that she is all that stands between the BJP and success in West Bengal. She is also talking up the BJP as the party to fear. She reckons that the BJP is starting from a low base – even though it won 17 per cent of the vote in the Lok Sabha election – and can at best finish a strong second. As for the Congress and the CPI (M), they will remain game-spoilers. She believes a fractured opposition will allow the TMC to win a majority with 35-40 per cent of the popular vote.
By making outlandish comments on an issue of national security, that too in a border state, her government has given the impression of being hopeless and immature. This will make some voters wary. Indeed, even sections of Muslims, alarmed at Trinamool raj and hooliganism by its cadres, are switching to the BJP. This is particularly marked in the Birbhum district in the western part of the state. While absolute numbers are small, the trend is telling.
SHARADHA SCAM: PANDORAS
A 37-minute tell-all video that unleashed a political storm in Bengal with suspended Trinamool Congress MP Kunal Ghosh alleging close ties between several top leaders and the Sarada group involved in a multi-crore chit fund scam.
In the video Ghosh alleged that senior TMC leader Subhendu Adhikary was extorting money from Sarada promoter Sudipta Sen for protecting a real estate venture. Ghosh also claims that he asked Mamata Banerjee to intervene and call off the pressure on Sen, but it went unheard.
“The West Bengal Chief Minister knew that I work for Sharada, the state government was well aware of all the operations of the channel,” said Ghosh. In an alleged shocking revelation from intelligence bureau says that Sudipto Sen, the chief of Saradha group (chit fund) allegedly paid Jamat-e-Islam, an ISI backed Bangladesh based terrorist organisation through TMC MP Ahmed Hassan Imran. The JeI is not only a banned terrorist organisation in India, but also a conspirator against the Awami league government in Bangladesh. Earlier it was also alleged that much of the fund was stashed in Bangladesh. The deal with JeI was to get Sudipto Sen a free passage via Kashmir, in case he is to be arrested. In fact Sudipto Sen was arrested in Kashmir while trying to flee.
SKY IS THE LIMIT: After coming to power Mamata Banerjee decided that the motto of her government was ‘sky is the limit’. To signify this, Mamata ordered all government buildings, flyovers, roadside railings and even taxis to be painted light blue.
NO ‘LEFT’ IN BENGAL: The state education panel of the Mamata Banerjee-led government recommended that the founders of Marxism—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels—be removed from the history syllabus in government schools in West Bengal. The move was condemned as a “wrong and controversial” attempt to re-write history, but the Trinamool claimed it was to “correct the imbalance”.
NO ENGLISH FOR US PLEASE: Close on the heels of the Marxism controversy, Mamata banned West Bengal’s state libraries from stocking English newspapers. Opposition parties alleged that only papers that were supporting the Trinamool were being kept in libraries.
NOT CARTOONING AROUND: Mamata virtually defied the basic rights of freedom of speech and expression, when a cartoon featuring the West Bengal chief minister and other Trinamool leaders led to the arrest of a Kolkata professor. Mamata said she had nothing to do with the arrest, but voiced her support for it.
HEARTLESS: Mamata created one more controversy by labelling a case of rape as a fabricated event. The CM termed the rape of a girl as ‘contrived’ and said that incident was intended to malign her government. Moreover, the state government transferred Kolkata Police crime wing’s first woman chief Damayanti Sen after she cracked the case and found evidence to counter the CM’s claim. (NK)
Despite her arrogance, Mamata have always enjoyed a charismatic personality in Bengal. However the media portrayed her, Mamata Banerjee with her ordinary white saree and sleepers in feet always seemed a very honest and non-compromising leader. Even after the expose of this scam, many believed that she wasn’t aware of such fraud and became a victim of her aids conspiracy. But one after another exposes gradually watered down her image.
Everyone knew that both Kunal Ghosh and Sudipto Sen were close aids of Mamata. The TMC spokespersons are having a hard time defending Mamata in front of media queries. A few months ago, Sougat Roy in a futile effort tried to cover the ground, and said that TMC has nothing to do with Srinjoy Bose, Ashif Khan and even Rajat Gupta; although former two are TMC Rajya Sabha MPs and later was a TMC official. It has now come to the fore that Ahmed Hassan was former SIMI founder and now exposed as having connection with Jamat-e- Islami!
Trinamool Congress chief and chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has finally spoken on the Saradha scam after her name was brought up in the scandal, following news of a deal between Saradha and IRCTC when she was the Union railways minister. Kunal Ghosh who had been suspended by the party and is currently in judicial custody for interrogation, had also remarked that all the top leaders of TMC need to be interrogated jointly for the truth to come out.
Mamata Banerjee has responded that neither she nor her party depended on Saradha funds for survival. She retorted that Ghosh is an accused lodged in jail and that whatever he said was merely an attempt to save him self. But there are few questions, which can’t be evaded by Mamata. Saradha’s tourism arm was established in 2007, and over the next two years they posted losses of Rs 61 lakh. However, they bagged the IRCTC agency contract in 2010. Being running at a loss , how could the company bag such big contract without any security deposits or bank guarantees which is a prerequisite to be an agent of IRCTC? The company had begun with a share capital of Rs 1 lakh, and the shareholders were Sudipto Sen, his wife Priyanka and son Subhojit. The CBI says that though there is no rule on how big a company has to be to get the Railways contract, a company with share capital of Rs 1 lakh, and running on losses would certainly not fit the bill.
The CBI therefore suspects that the Saradha tourism did not bag the contract depending on the reputation it had but rather used the name of IRCTC to gain reputation and collect more funds. Therefore, how they got such a contract when Banerjee was the minister is a question she is still answerable to.
By Nilabh Krishna