Kolkata, June 23: Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s diktat to Trinamool Congress leaders and people’s representatives at all levels to return the ‘cut money’ they extorted from beneficiaries of welfare schemes since 2011 has opened a Pandora’s box.
Echoing allegations made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah during Lok Sabha poll campaign, hundreds of people, ranging from landless farmers to businessmen, are publicly naming TMC leaders who have taken money from them.
Opposition leaders and political observers feel that this will have severe repercussions on the prospects of the TMC in the civic body polls in 2020 and Assembly elections in 2021.
On June 18, while addressing Kolkata’s civic body leaders, Banerjee said those who take ‘cut money’ or commissions from common people must return it. She alleged that some TMC leaders don’t even spare the dead and charge Rs 200 from releasing the sum of Rs 2,000 the state government gives to poor people to cremate family members.
On June 19, following a mass demonstration at Ratura in Malda district, police had to arrest Sukesh Yadav, a former gram panchayat pradhan on charges of embezzling Rs 1 crore from Nirmal Bangla project funds. In the same case a government employee, Pramod Kumar Sarkar, was arrested on Saturday.
Allegations are pouring in and demonstrations are taking place across districts every day. The accused range from common panchayat members and civic body leaders to a Rajya Sabha MP.
On Saturday, TMC removed Shanta Sarkar, the vice chairman of Rajpur-Sonarpur municipality in the southern fringes of Kolkata following allegations of corruption. “I only followed orders from the party. I don’t know why this was done but the post of the vice chairman has been done away with,” said Pallab Kumar Das, the chairman.
In Birbhum district, villagers at Sainthia demonstrated outside the home of panchayat member Dalim Bagdi alleging that he embezzled funds from the Prime Minister Awas Yojna and Nirmal Bangla project. People in the district’s Parui village demanded the arrest of panchayat pradhan Sirajul Shah for allegedly embezzling their dues accrued under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) project.
Even as local TMC leaders claimed that the BJP engineered the agitations, residents of Mangalkot in Burdwan district set up a kangaroo court on Sunday morning and forced a TMC leader and his associate promise that he would return all the money he took from them.
Kalimoy Gangopadhyay, the TMC panchayat leader accused in Mangalkot said, “I took the money at the instruction of TMC’s regional president Ramjan Sheikh. He told us that the party would not give any money to run the local organisation and we would have to arrange our own funds by charging from villagers.”
Gangopadhyay’s associate, Apurba Ghosh, the second accused said, “We raised around Rs 3 lakh. We will sell our land and return the money.”
Ramjan Sheikh dismissed the allegations. “They (the two accused leaders) are not our party members. This has been staged by the BJP,” Sheikh said.
In Kolkata, a real estate businessman, Sumanta Choudhury, alleged on Friday that between 2012 and 2018 he had to give Rs 40 lakh to TMC councilor Shantanu Sen who is now a Rajya Sabha MP and president of the Indian Medical Association.
“Since 2012 I have not been able to do my business without paying money to the TMC. I am speaking out since Mamata Banerjee has given us an opportunity,” he alleged. Sen said the charges were false and politically motivated and he will sue for defamation.
The TMC leadership did not react to any of the allegations till Sunday morning. However, Kolkata mayor and urban development minister Firhad Hakim set up a helpline for the metro’s citizens to lodge a complaint against people asking for a bribe. KMC also put up huge hoardings.
“The chain of events has clearly vindicated Narendra Modi. He repeatedly talked about syndicate raj and ‘tolabaji’ (extortion) by TMC leaders. The chief minister has only made the job of the opposition easier,” political analyst and columnist Suvashis Maitran said.
“After institutionalizing corruption she now wants to portray herself as the only honest leader in TMC. When her own party MP and popular singer Kabir Suman spoke out against extortion a few years ago she took no action. It is common knowledge that everybody in the TMC gets a share of the booty,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member Md Salim said.
BJP Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh said, “From getting admission in the college to set up a toilet, people have to give TMC leaders a share for everything. Even policemen should return the money they extort from people.”
A new twist was added to the issue on Saturday when popular Bengali singer Nachiketa Chakraborty, who is known to be close to Banerjee, uploaded on YouTube his new song on commissions or ‘cut money’ in which the lyrics include the word ‘Didimoni’ (elder sister) which is commonly used for Banerjee.
The song went viral by Sunday morning, but Chakraborty insists that he will remain Banerjee’s follower.
“The song refers to corruption across India. I am a blind follower of the chief minister and will always be so,” said Chakraborty even as BJP’s Asansol MP and Union minister Babul Supriyo, also a singer, shared it in his social media post and thanked Chakraborty. (Courtesy:HT)