Flourishing ‘syndicate raj’ is an open secret in Bengal | assembly-elections | Hindustan Times
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Flourishing ‘syndicate raj’ is an open secret in Bengal

With assembly elections round the corner, big money will illegally change hands to fund the entire run-up to the polls by political parties and their candidates. A lion’s share of this shady transaction comes from the ‘syndicate raj’ that is thriving in the state.

West Bengal 2016 Updated: Apr 07, 2016 09:17 IST
Kolkata: TMC workers carrying giant hoardings of West Bengal CM‘Syndicate’ is an extortion racket that runs in areas where real estate is witnessing a boom. Unemployed men backed by the ruling party use the clout and the threat of violence to force contractors into buying inferior building materials from them at a premium.
Kolkata: TMC workers carrying giant hoardings of West Bengal CM‘Syndicate’ is an extortion racket that runs in areas where real estate is witnessing a boom. Unemployed men backed by the ruling party use the clout and the threat of violence to force contractors into buying inferior building materials from them at a premium.(PTI )

With assembly elections round the corner, big money will illegally change hands to fund the entire run-up to the polls by political parties and their candidates. A lion’s share of this shady transaction comes from the ‘syndicate raj’ that is thriving in the state.

During polls, syndicate members or local toughs are also used as muscle power by their political bosses for not only terrorising voters but also opposition workers.

It is now an open secret in Kolkata, or for that matter in the entire state of West Bengal.

‘Syndicate’ is an extortion racket that runs in areas where real estate is witnessing a boom. Unemployed men backed by the ruling party use the clout and the threat of violence to force contractors into buying inferior building materials from them at a premium.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been repeatedly cautioning her party men to stay away from syndicates but to no avail.

While Banerjee has a clean image and is trying to steer her party out of the murky waters, her trusted lieutenants are being exposed one after the other for their association with one of the biggest menaces of the state – syndicate raj.

Funding elections

In 2014, the Election Commission of India increased the ceiling on poll expenditure by raising the cap for contesting election for the Lok Sabha to Rs 70 lakh and that for contesting an assembly seat was fixed at Rs 28 lakh.

But that is just official. Ask any politician and he would tell you this is just a part of what they actually spend before the elections.

A few days back state urban development minister Firhad Hakim was allegedly caught on spy camera revealing it takes nearly Rs 1 crore to fight an election to the Lok Sabha. On Monday, another sting operation exposed Bidhannagar mayor Sabyasachi Dutta saying that it takes nearly Rs 50–60 lakh to fight the assembly elections and that most of the money come from syndicates.

“Every Trinamool Congress leader seems to be involved in syndicates and extortion. What is new in it? The sting is just showing them taking bribes and cash on camera. See every neighborhood and you will find them easily. They are the ruling party toughs,” senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan said.

Dutta went further to reveal how his party backs syndicates so that the funds could be siphoned back the party before the elections.

“There are four pillars on which Trinamool Congress is standing, bribes, extortion, syndicates and chit funds. Using these they came in power, using the same they want to stay in power. So many murders took place in Rajarhat-Newtown surrounding syndicates. Sabyasachi’s statement only proves it,” Robin Deb, CPI-M state secretariat member and a candidate from Singur, said.

The syndicate menace has plagued the city and its outskirts - from the fledgling township of Rajarhat-Newtown in the north, areas off the EM Bypass in the east, Sonarpur and Baruipur in south or Joka and Behala in the west. Syndicates owing allegiance to the ruling party get the ‘job’ of supplying labour and construction materials for bridges and flyovers.

Big names from the ruling party such as Sabyasachi Dutta and Barasat MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar are often associated with these syndicates.

Dirty works

Violence, shootouts, murders, gang rivalry, kidnapping, extortion – are the some of the most common crimes that revolve around this syndicate raj.

In the 2015 municipal polls, most of the violence that rocked the city took place in areas where these syndicates are active and flex their muscles. It is because they control the real estate market which involves ‘big black money’.

The nexus between goons, politicians and even a section of police has reached such extent that even the courts have not been spared.

Workers and labourers at the construction site of the proposed West Bengal Judicial Academy in New Town, Rajarhat were attacked and building material was stolen because the contractors didn’t purchase materials from syndicates.

Recently the Calcutta high court directed the Bidhannagar Police to crack down on these syndicates after a promoter whose construction site was blocked filed a petition.

But nothing significant has happened so far.