After the great Bengal scam

Creating a huge political wave that threatens to wash away several political reputations is the Saradha Ponzi Scheme scam of West Bengal. More arrests are revealing scores of new suspects who took either astronomical salaries by cheque or unaccounted money in cash from Saradha chief Sudipta Sen. In the 1950s, industrialist Haridas Mundhra of Kolkata convinced the Central government to put crores of rupees of public money in his personal enterprise. But Mundhra’s mischief or Sanchayita Investments’ collection of over Rs. 100 crore in the 1980s is a pittance compared to the quantum of money involved in the most recent scam, named after the State’s beloved godmother, Saradha. The novelty of the scam lies in its sheer size. Currently, the size of the scam is estimated at a little over $1 billion, in a State that has a debt burden of more than $30 billion. But newer estimates are emerging as unknown ‘monsters’ are unearthed. The money was raised predominantly from cash-strapped peasants and daily-wage earners during the last years of CPI(M) rule and the system flourished after the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) arrived. People from every social bracket — the flag-bearers of Bengal’s intelligentsia, bureaucrats, sports administrators, media magnates, industrialists and politicians — accepted or extracted favours, depending on one’s degree of access to power. An absurd transfer of wealth — reminiscent of the drain of resources from India to England before Independence — from the poor to the rich was orchestrated in the countryside. Bengal’s nobility hailed Mr. Sen for the transfer, and the ensuing inaction of the bhadrolok made the job of the CBI relatively straightforward.

But then, the CBI’s credibility is often questioned by the very people who once ran it. Its former Directors have accused the agency of derailing investigations under “political pressure”. The present Director is under the scanner, fuelling speculation about where the Saradha probe will now head. On the political front, the AITC may well be under pressure owing to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s sudden rise, but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is herself no greenhorn in politics. She has for now >managed to convince many people that she, and she alone, can return the stolen money. Her cadres are spreading the message that, while Ms. Banerjee’s men may have swallowed the money, she would return it, placing the individual way above the party. Such a strategy to elevate a person above the party may work, or may not work, depending on the quantum that Ms. Banerjee is able to return in the 20 months before the next Assembly election in 2016. In the run-up to that poll, the Saradha scam is bound to have a major impact. How credibly the various political parties deal with the fallout is going to influence the outcome significantly.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 7:28:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/after-the-great-bengal-scam/article6420005.ece

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