Saradha shows no Mamata

With the CBI investigation, more skeletons are tumbling from the TMC’s closet than the party or its leader can handle

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

Predictably, the noose seems to be tightening around West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the Saradha chit fund scandal. The feisty CM is cognizant of the dragnet that is gathering around her, politically as well as from the CBI sleuths, and is reaching out to the Left parties to build an alliance against the fast-gaining BJP in the state. The Left will not have anything to do with her and would want her to stew in her own juices, a misery brought on by the manifest amorality of her politics.

The BJP government in Delhi is playing a game fine tuned by the Congress over the years—using the CBI to degrade opponents. The Narendra Modi government may not have indicated anything to the investigating officers but so sycophantic and pliable are some of them that they may have gone about it on their own to curry favour with the new dispensation. After all, the evidence being presented to asphyxiate Banerjee was always there.

Fresh testimony is being ferreted out about links between the promoter of the Saradha chit fund company, Sudipta Sen, and Banerjee. A Trinamool Congress MP, Kunal Ghosh, who was suspended recently, told the CBI that Banerjee met Sen in the company of another party leader, Mukul Roy, in Kalimpong in 2012.

Another fact that has tumbled out is about how the Saradha group was granted a contract by the Indian Railway Tourism and Catering Corporation (IRCTC) when Banerjee was Railways Minister in 2010. Although no criminality has been established in the way the contract was awarded, it is being discreetly suggested that Saradha basically enjoyed the protection of Banerjee and her cohorts. It was due to this that Sen was allowed to continue growing richer even when his criminal ways were brought to her notice.

There are several others close to Banerjee who have been investigated by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing the money laundering angle. One moneybag being investigated is KD Singh. Another is Matang Singh, who was one of the most influential power-brokers in the capital. Recently, the CBI raided his properties in Delhi and elsewhere. Matang, a minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government, quietly amassed wealth and influence. He owned some TV channels, one of them being recently sold to industrialist Naveen Jindal. Matang, an MP from Assam, was extremely powerful during Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership. He was known to have a say in the appointment of important Secretaries in the government of India.

The Saradha scam, a ponzi scheme in which the public lost about `3,000 crore, flourished in eastern India where banking penetration was low and faith in post office savings had eroded due to low interest rates. Saradha, like Sahara and other chit fund companies, tried to step in to fill this gap and pick up small savings of the poor by promising better returns. When these chit fund companies began to grow bigger by purchasing legitimacy from politicians and investing in unviable projects, this house of cards came down. A number of lives were lost due to the busting of the chit fund company. Banerjee provided a bailout of `500 crore, but it did not serve any purpose. Saradha’s collapse also hurt media houses it funded, film companies, football clubs like East Bengal and many other entities on West Bengal’s cultural and political scene.

It remains to be seen how Banerjee extricates herself. She may have to seek advice from Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa, who has better experience of using politics to keep the courts and police at bay. Meanwhile, the Saradha vultures are eyeing another catch—Odisha CM Navin Patnaik. It remains to be seen when they swoop on him.    

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2014