More On Saradah Scam

Cheats and the Cheated

Anirban Biswas

The Saradah scam IS beyond doubt the largest financial scandal the state of West Bengal has ever known. More than sixty agents and depositors have already committed suicide. As per statement of the Shyamal Sen Commission, appointed by the state government, more than 1.75 million of depositors were affected. The amount of money involved in the Saradah Scam and other Chit-Funds scandals is of the order of Rs 100 billion, and 2.5 million of depositors have been cheated as a whole. When the scandal first came out in the middle of April 2013, Sudipto Sen, the all-in-all of the Saradah Group, took to flight and all the branch offices of the Group from which the agents and depositors were to realize dues, were closed. It is curious that the person who first lodged the complaint against Sudipto sen was a lady, who despite having no experience of working on any media channel, had been appointed the Executive Editor of one such channel at the enviable salary of Rs 80000 per month. On 22 April, the Shyamal Sen Commission was appointed and one day later, Sudipto Sen was arrested from Kashmir alongwith an accomplice Debjani Ghosh. On 24 April, the Chief Minister announced the formation of a fund of Rs 5 billion in order to compensate the cheated depositors and followed this announcement with the extortion to the people to buy and smoke more cigarettes, because that would help her raise money through indirect taxes. In the meantime, reports of suicides by agents and depositors came pouring in.

For the last one year or so, Mamata Banerjee has prided over her ‘feat’ of setting up this compensation fund, while carefully evading the fact that this money was basically to come from the public exchequer. Thus she wanted to meet the liabilities of the imposters out of public money while the more justified method would have been to trace the assets of the cheaters and do justice to the pauperized depositors. It is clear that she was not much interested in it because the imposters allied with the Saradah Group and other Chit-Funds allegedly included her political lieutenants as well. The revelations about the purchase of her paintings—nobody knew that she was a painter of repute—is only one pointer. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by her government, after one year’s investigation, has been able to trace only a small part of the deposited money. SIT is said to have trimmed down their activities to suit the purposes of the present government.

A TMC member of the Rajya Sabha, who used to receive a salary of Rs 1.5 million per month from the Saradah Group as the CEO of the Media Channels was arrested on 23 November 2013 more than five months after the revelation of the scam, and since then, Mamata loyalists have been trying to project this as an example of her probity. These loyalists having no sense of shame, have found it convenient to make people forget that when the information of this astronomical salary much higher than the salaries received by the most illustrious media men in the country got leaked, Mamata Banerjee tried to brazen it out by arguing that it was possibly because he served five or six media channels at a time that the said MP possibly received such a salary. But it was physically impossible in work for so many organizations at a time. After all 24 hours make a day. A few months later when the said MP, Mr Kunal Ghosh, publicly named several persons including the Chief Minister herself, saying that they were in the know of things, he was promptly arrested and put behind bars. He has also been prevented from giving a secret deposition at the court.

The scam continues to be discussed among the literate public of West Bengal and there is no sign of abatement. It is now being suggested that many leaders and ministers of the ruling TMC, had under hand dealings with this fraudulent concern, and many think that the money spent by the TMC during the assembly polls came mainly from such dealings with the Saradah Group. A few months after the revelation of the scam, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed at the Supreme Court demanding a CBI probe into the scam. The case was heard eleven times and the lawyers of the state government, using all kinds of specious and hollow arguments, tried to prevent such a probe. After a large waste of time, Supreme Court, dissatisfied with the activities of the State Government and its SIT, ordered a CBI prove on 2 May this year. The Enforcement Directorate, meanwhile became active after being admonished by the apex court, and it unearthed a large amount of assets. The queer things that the SIT of state government has all along tried to obstruct their ways instead of cooperating with. Judged in this context, the utterences of Mr Kunal Ghosh accusing Chief Minister and the police force at her disposal of destroying evidence and suppressing facts do not at all seem incredible. A most inhuman episode regarding the Saradah scam is that on 4 May, when members of the Chit Fund Sufferers’ Unity Forum, an organization of the cheated depositors and agents, were demonstrating at a suburban railway station of Kolkata—it was a token railway blockade—TMC activists allegedly led by a local TMC councillor swooped on them and mercilessly beat them up with sticks and rods. This has amply made clear that the ‘symbol of probity’ is on the side of the cheats rather than the cheated.

Meanwhile poll-related violence continues in the state. On 12 May i.e. on the last phase of Lok Sabha poll, bullets were fired at some 200 voters who were going together to cast their franchise at a booth located in North 24-Parganas. Four received bullet injuries, and the operation was led allegedly by the husband of a TMC MLA. In one case in the district of Bankura, the concerned presiding officer, having been driven out from the booth by the local MLA and her armed associates, showed rare courage in lodging an FIR and the MLA is still at large. Whether the police is at all interested in arresting her is a moot question. Instances of poll-related violence may be multiplied, and it can be safely suggested that the subsequent nature of the police force, used to work at the behests of their political bosses, and the callousness of the Election Commission have helped Mamata Banerjee’s men considerably. Mamata Banerjee and her party also needed to apply brute force whenever and wherever possible, simply because the Saradah revelations, the TET (Teachers’ Eligibility Test) scandal and various other instances of corruption have tarnished her image and established her party as a thoroughly corrupt outfit. Were she to allow a free and fair polling process, she won’t be able to win a sufficient number of seats.

It is time that during the long period of the Left Front rule, its main constituent the CPI(M), tried to manipulate the voting process, particularly since the late eighties of the last century. It was partially successful too. But the terms were in general less blatant and less obtrusive. But the Lok Sabha polls this time have surpassed all these. The use of violence, overt and covert by the TMC this time can only be linked to the 1972 assembly polls when Indira Gandhi and Siddhartha Ray’s men ruthlessly rigged the elections. It is, however, intriguing that the Left Front Government and the CPI(M), although in full possession of the knowledge of Siddhartha Ray’s misdeeds, never tried to punish him.

Another notable aspect of the electoral farce staged in West Bengal is that other political parties could offer little resistance to the terror unleashed by the TMC. The reasons are not difficult to understand. A large number of musclemen joined this outfit in the wake of its coming to power, and money began to pour in concurrently from dubious sources. It is a fact that money and muscle power play a role, although not exclusive but nevertheless important, in the polls. This is where Mamata Banerjee has outdone her rivals. And it is a fact that until a complete reversal of the already receding tide of popular support, the police forces are not expected to act impartially. Hence the hegemony of the TMC in West Bengal politics is likely to continue for some time. History is replete with examples of utterly degenerate and corrupt regimes continuing to dominate until they are dislodged by strong popular waves.   [13-05-2014]

Vol. 46, No. 48, Jun 8 - 14, 2014