The meltdown of Sudipta Sen’s Saradha Group has not only hit the rural poor in Bengal, it has also shaken the Trinamool Congress – the invincible pyramid with Mamata Banerjee at the top.
It’s more alarming, at least to a section of old Banerjee loyalists, who never left her side, as the party’s most loyal vote bank is now in danger. They realise the next panchayat and Lok Sabha elections will be fought in the countryside.
But although it was the rural voter, who brought Banerjee to power in 2011, the party is fast losing its clout in the villages as the lure of Sen’s money had turned partymen and panchayat leaders into Saradha agents.
Since they used to convince the depositors that Saradha had the state government’s backing, they are now being hounded by their clients – who were also their voters.
Banerjee, for the first time, is facing challenges – however mild they may be – from none other than the small band of men who joined her when Trinamool was formed on January 1, 1998.
Earlier, the only irreverent voice was that of composer-singer Kabir Suman, who joined the TMC in 2006 and became a Lok Sabha member in 2009. But he fell out with Banerjee on corruption issues.
Now Banerjee’s old comrades, such as Sougata Roy, Sisir Adhikari and Suvendu Adhikari, among others, are expressing their unhappiness openly in different party forums.
Their argument: The party could have initiated steps when TMC MPs Somen Mitra and Tapas Paul warned against the so-called multi-level marketing companies operating as chit funds. Mitra even wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on how these companies had been looting the rural poor.
The old-timers are now openly clamouring for getting rid of those who hobnobbed – if not colluded – with the likes of Sen. They demand immediate steps, beginning by expelling the MPs and MLAs who had direct links with Sen.
“The hobnobbing between Saradha and our party leaders went to a ridiculous extent where even Durga pujas organised by leaders used to be funded by Sen. Saradha even used to partially sponsor party and government programmes,” said a TMC MP, who did not wish to be named.
The veterans feel – especially after Sen accused TMC MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Basu of fleecing him – that the scam could have been avoided if Banerjee could avoid her dependence on these newcomers.
Also, the Saradha scam killed Banerjee’s dream of building a pro-government chain of media entities, which would eventually crowd out the independent ones.
That, according to party insiders, was primarily the reason why Banerjee had allowed people like Ghosh – a former journalist with a Bengali daily – to convince her that Sen could be used to build the media empire.