Unlike any other controversial issues surrounding Trinamool Congress, the Saradha episode is set to hit the party’s precious rural vote bank before the panchayat and Lok Sabha polls.
Senior leaders of the party demanded immediate damage control measures including axing those involved with Ponzi scheme organisations.
So far, controversies surrounding partymen from Arabul Islam, Md Iqbal to Shambhunath Kow have been limited to urban areas and had little impact on the party vote bank, though they dented its image.
But party leaders fear the Saradha episode for the first time will hit the rural vote bank.
“All I said was that if anyone, any of our party members be it an MP or a gram panchayat member is involved with such Ponzi scheme he/she should be immediately sacked. If I am involved please sack me. Why should such persons, whoever they are, still remain in the party when thousands of people are cheated?” said Sisir Adhikari, Lok Sabha MP and core committee member of Trinamool.
Names like Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh, Lok Sabha MP Shatabdi Roy, state transport minister Madan Mitra and others allegedly had direct link with Saradha Group. Some as CEO of its media venture, some inaugurating and speaking at its meetings calling people to support the group.
Senior party leaders said that the victims of Saradha Group hailed primarily from the districts and from villages, who have lost their life savings. Apart from investors thousands of agents are too at the receiving end.
Many of the agents are party leaders at the grassroots level and even panchayat members. Most cannot return to their homes since they are being hounded by investors.
“The Ponzi scheme scam has hit the villages. Our leadership, be it MP or MLA or panchayat members, are involved. People are hounding them. Do you think these people will ever vote for us? Panchayat and then Lok Sabha polls are near and the issue will not die down until the money is returned to the people. It is presently impossible,” said another Lok Sabha MP.
Already, opposition parties including the Congress, the CPI(M) and the BJP have initiated campaign citing the link between a number of top Trinamool leaders and Saradha Group. Many have also demanded arrest of party MP Kunal Ghosh and others.
Recently many of the party leaders were involved in the controversy, from former MLA Arabul Islam assaulting CPI(M) leaders, Md Iqbal, borough chairman in Garden Reach involved in shooting ASI Tapas Chowdhury, or councillor Shambhunath Kow accused in a murder of fellow party men.
“However these were urban phenomenon and did not damage our vote bank. Also they have all been arrested. But the Saradha issue has a pan-Bengal impact and those party leaders involved are roaming free,” said a minister in Mamata Banerjee cabinet.