The political fallout could impact Trinamool Congress’s prospects in the upcoming panchayat elections

In less than a month from the completion of its two years in office, the Mamata Banerjee government is under a cloud. Emerging from it will require more than denials from the ruling Trinamool Congress that it was not associated with the company implicated in a massive “chit fund” scam.

Protests by lakhs of anguished investors who face the spectre of losing savings they had deposited with the now infamous Saradha Group’s chit fund company have risen to a crescendo, and the political blame-game has begun in earnest.

Rattled, Trinamool is pointing the finger at the Centre and previous Left Front governments for preparing the ground for the scam. These parties might each have a defence. However, there is no escaping the widespread perception among the duped depositors that they were confident of returns on their money due to the company’s proximity to the State government.

Ms Banerjee has made her share of announcements of steps to be taken. The question however is how many more suicides of agents or investors will it take for those in positions of powers to act with consequence against the murky world of dubious deposit collection entities, identify those enjoying political patronage, and bring the culprits to book.

Earlier scam

The scam is reminiscent of the closure of the Sanchayita Investments in the early 1980s when investors were duped of their savings in the company. After investigations initiated by the Left Front government in power then, a company boss committed suicide following his arrest.

What makes the collapse of the Saradha finance company different is this — it was a part of a bigger business empire that included several media organisations that have also recently been closed down. It is only too well known that they all leaned towards the Trinamool Congress.

Political links

Not only was the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh the Group Media CEO of Saradha, another of its MPs, Satabdi Roy, was the Group’s brand ambassador.

Furthermore, the State’s Minister for Sports Madan Mitra, considered close to Ms Banerjee, had shared the dais with Sudipta Sen, Chairman and Managing Director of the Group at a company event.

The political fallout of the scam cannot be overstated. It could impact the prospects of the Trinamool Congress in the upcoming panchayat elections, as a large chunk of those affected belong to rural areas. Already the Trinamool has been accused by the Left parties and the Congress of working to pushing back the poll schedule, uncertain of its prospects due to the feuding within the party, and which is only set to intensify as electoral candidates are determined. As if the ground beneath its feet was not wobbly enough, it has turned even more shaky in the wake of the recent developments.

The violence across the State that targeted Left parties and its workers after the roughing up of State Finance Minister Amit Mitra and the heckling of Ms. Banerjee in New Delhi had barely died down when West Bengal is on the boil again. This time around, the government has its back to the wall in the face of the fury of investors and agents targeting what is increasingly being referred to as a “cheat fund.” As it prepares for its third year in office, the Trinamool Congress is up against a challenge the likes of which it has not experienced before.

marcus.dam@thehindu.co.in

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