Chit fund: It's cut and thrust in Bengal politics
Kolkata: It is turning out to be virtually a free for all among the politicians of West Bengal in the aftermath of the Saradha chit fund bust. Relatives of political figures are being dragged into the muddle as allegations of corruption and nepotism abound.
It all started in April with pictures and video footages doing the rounds, of a number of ruling Trinamool Congress leaders - some of them ministers and MPs - sharing the stage with Saradha Group chief Sudipta Sen at various programmes of the group companies. The opposition seized the opportunity to cry hoarse over the Trinamool's links with the tainted group in which party MP Kunal Ghosh worked as media chief executive officer.
Soon, there emerged similar photographs and video grabs of a couple of leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had been in power for 34 years before Mamata Banerjee took office in 2011.
Trinamool grabbed its chance, and it was all even-steven.
Within days, pictures of leaders cutting across the political spectrum sharing the stage with Saradha and other chit fund aided companies flooded the media.
Gautam Deb, the irrepressible CPI(M) leader and former minister, then took the centrestage. Addressing a public rally in Panihati of the North 24 Parganas district, Deb alleged that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew and Trinamool Yuva head Abhishek Banerje had amassed fortunes of over Rs 300 crore within a couple of years, and wondered whether he was running a chit fund business too.
"If Abhishek himself runs a chit fund, then how can Mamata Banerjee take action against other chit funds?" Deb asked.
The very next day, the Trinamool termed the allegations as "slanderous and downright fictional", and said on its website: "What the CPI(M) and its former minister have done amounts to defaming an innocent person. They will hear from our lawyers soon."
Abhishek, the president of Trinamool Yuva, the party's youth wing, "will sue the CPI(M) for defamation", said the statement.
Saying that the company was "not at all into chit funds", the Trinamool extended an invitation to the CPI(M) and its leaders to study its books "and try and trace wrong-doing amounting to even Rs 300, let alone Rs 300 crore".
Abhishek slapped a legal notice on Deb demanding an apology and withdrawal of the allegations, and 48 hours later, he moved the court.
On Thursday, Mamata Banerjee herself launched a counter attack at a public rally in North Kolkata. Waving a thick file of the CPI(M) mouthpiece Ganashakti and other papers, she displayed purported photographs of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattachajee and other Marxist leaders with chit fund company bosses.
She also sought to distance herself from Deb's allegations about his family. "I don't have any family. I am all alone. My only relatives are the public," she said.
But it was a close relative of Banerjee who added to her discomfiture. Her brother Kartick said in an article in a magazine that he had warned the party almost a year back about the mushrooming of chit funds and the Trinamool leaders' hobnobbing with them.
Mamata Banerjee has maintained, since the Saradha scam broke out, that she had no idea till April 15 about the flourishing chit fund business and the financial irregularities of Saradha.
The same day, Deb held a media meet hurling a second barrage of allegations against Abhishek Banerjee and his company.
On Friday, the Trinamool fielded a relatively lightweight minister Ujjal Biswas, an unfamiliar face to TV news viewers. He accused Deb of nepotism, mentioning names of his family members who had allegedly been given preferential treatment and siphoned off money during his ministerial stint.
"We have instituted inquiries into all these," said Biswas.
Hours later, the action shifted to the CPI(M) headquarters, where party central committee member Md Selim responded to Banerjee's allegations and launched his own offensive.
And so it goes, as the buck is passed back and forth.