Ghost of Saradha chit fund scam still haunts Mamata in Bengal
Mamata's problem is that during her years as opposition, she had been demanding a CBI probe when it suited her needs, and when she wanted to put the Left Front government in the dock. Now the tables have turned.
Mamata Banerjee thought she had buried the Saradha scam by taking prompt action to try and reimburse some of the poorest investors in the fund. But like a zombie it has resurfaced. As Bengal goes into the second stage of its polls, the Saradha chit fund is haunting the campaign.
"Everyone is talking about it at my meetings," says journalist Chandan Mitra who is also the BJP nominee from Hooghly. "Everyone wants to know why the state government did not ask for a CBI enquiry."
The implication is clear. The opposition wants to pin Saradha on Mamata Banerjee, guilt by association if need be. The head honchos of Saradha had flaunted their proximity to the Trinamool top brass to inspire confidence among its investors. The Bengal government has insisted it's perfectly capable of investigating the scam on its own. But as the state went to the polls, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) left Mamata's government red-faced by taking Saradha kingpin Sudipta Sengupta’s wife and son into custody. The state had insisted it had been searching for them but that they had been absconding. The ED did it without much difficulty.
Now the opposition smells blood even though no one doubts Mamata will win big in these elections. Both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have brought up Saradha in their election rallies. "We all know about the cheating of chit fund that happened here, the Saradha scam," Modi said at a rally in Siliguri. "They even looted poor people, who saved Rs 10 a day."
A stung Mamata retorted that "There are some who do not name their wives. If they give names, they don’t disclose their address."
"SEBI and Enforcement Directorate told them to take action, but the Mamata Banerjee government, which says it is a government of the poor, is not taking any action. On the other hand, they are trying to save them," Rahul Gandhi alleged at a meeting in Malda.
Malda is regarded as a Congress bastion, still considered the pocket borough of the late Barkat-da or Ghani Khan Choudhury. His family members are the MPs from here – brother Abu Hashem Khan Choudhury in Malda South and Mausam Noor, his niece and Youth Congress leader in Malda North. But the last time around Congress and Trinamool were allied. Now they are going to polls on their own on 24 April against the Left and BJP. Trinamool has fielded a singer from a popular Bengal band against Noor. The candidates think that Saradha is good weapon to use to corner Mamata.
Mamata is striking back. As always she trains her guns on two culprits – the CPM for sins of the past, the Centre for sins of the present. "When did chit funds start in Bengal? In the 1980s. Who was in power then? CPI(M). Who was the CM when Sanchayita scam happened? When was Saradha founded? Who was the CM of Bengal then? Was the CM sleeping then?" Mamata told a rally in Serampore.
Mamata questioned Chidambaram’s new-found hyper activity. "Centre has turned arrogant because of money power. Trinamool does not need money from illegal sources to run the party. Why did the Left mouthpiece take money from Saradha for ads? Centre is taking away all our revenues. Yet we are making our ends meet and working for the people."
It’s obvious that Mamata is feeling the Saradha burn. Until now she had been focusing more on bashing the BJP and Narendra Modi as “dangar mukh” or the face of the riots. But Saradha, which had disappeared off the front pages is back in the headlines. The Calcutta High Court has pulled up the state government for its handling of the investigation.
The latest problem for the Bengal government is a Supreme Court ruling that suggests it is okay with ordering a CBI probe into a cash collection scheme in Odisha. Saradha is one of the accused companies there. Naveen Patnaik’s government had opposed that central probe but has dropped its opposition to it now. That leaves Mamata even more isolated.
Her problem is during her years in the opposition, she had been vociferous in demanding a CBI probe when it suited her needs, and when she wanted to put the Left Front government in the dock.
Now the tables have turned.
"Sobai CBI CBI korchhe... Etodin CBI ki korechhe? Erporey jodi adalat chai CBI hobey Tatey aamaar ki korar aachey? (Everyone keeps saying CBI CBI. What was the CBI doing until now? After this if the court wants there will be a CBI probe. What can I do?)" Mamata told a rally in West Midnapore according to The Telegraph.
But she also reminded her audience of CBI probes that went nowhere – like the Jnaneshwari train disaster or the killings in Netai. She’s also tried to play one central agency against the other demanding to know why regulatory agencies like Sebi and Registrar of Companies had not cracked down on Saradha earlier.
Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy struck both a defiant and a more conciliatory note in a meeting. He told a rally in Bolpur "Now they (the Opposition) are saying that Trinamool has looted Saradha money. The Trinamool Congress has no objection to an inquiry by a neutral agency. If Trinamool as a political party is found to be involved in any kind of corruption, the party will no longer indulge in politics."
The Bengal government’s lawyer is asking the court not to link the Odisha case with the Bengal case. But it’s also a fact that the Odisha collapse was part of the domino effect of the Bengal Saradha meltdown.
Bengal is going through a heat wave. In Kolkata the temperatures have climbed over 40 degrees. Only once in the last 10 years has a day in April been hotter according to the Met Office.
But on the election campaign, as Mamata combats the Saradha fallout, it's getting even hotter.
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