TMC legislator’s ‘nepotism’ comment puts party in BJP’s line of fire
The ruling Trinamool Congress in Bengal found itself in the BJP’s crosshairs on Sunday after a video clip of part of a speech by one of its legislators in north Bengal asking the party’s panchayat leaders to stay away from nepotism till the assembly polls in 2021 went viral.
The crux of what Udayan Guha, the TMC lawmaker from Dinhata constituency in Cooch Behar district, could be heard saying in the short clip is that party leaders had been involved in nepotism in the past and many were still into the practice but it should stop till the elections are over. Instead of directly saying that the leaders misused power to make money or property Guha could be heard saying in Bangla, “you have eaten a lot.”
Guha made the speech on Friday afternoon but the video clip surfaced 48 hours later.
Guha, the son of late Kamal Guha, a veteran Forward Bloc leader and erstwhile minister in the Jyoti Basu government, won the Dinhata assembly seat for the Bloc in 2011 and joined the TMC in 2015. He won the seat again in 2016. His father had won the Dinhata seat eight times; in 1962 and 1967 and six times in a row from 1977 to 2001.
“Udayan Guha’s direction to the panchayat leaders have only reaffirmed that the cut-money culture is very much prevalent in the TMC. This is an admission in public,” said BJP’s Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh. In political parlance, cut-money refers to bribe or commission taken from beneficiaries of welfare projects.
For the TMC, which is carrying out a rectification exercise on the recommendations of election strategist Prashant Kishor, who was roped in by chief minister Mamata Banerjee after her party’s poor show in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the video caused a major embarrassment.
TMC leaders did not comment on the incident but Guha told HT that sentences that can be heard in the video were being wrongly interpreted as the context was quite different.
“I said a lot of things before and after those sentences but the video was edited to play mischief. I told party workers and leaders that the BJP could win seven (out of eight) Lok Sabha seats in north Bengal districts in 2019 because voters were displeased with us. People know that Lok Sabha polls do not change state governments and yet they voted for the BJP. I said this was an expression of their anger,” said Guha.
“I told the party leaders to take a lesson from the 2019 verdict and refrain from nepotism. I said they should concentrate on the welfare of the people, something the chief minister is repeatedly asking us to do. Those portions of the speech were edited,” he added.
The cut-money controversy raised a storm in state politics in 2019. While the BJP called it an exposure of the corruption TMC leaders were involved in, the ruling party used it as a churning process to initiate rectification in the ranks.
On June 18 last year, while addressing Kolkata’s civic body leaders, Banerjee said those who took ‘cut money’ or commissions from common people must return it. She alleged that some TMC leaders don’t even spare the dead and charge Rs 200 for releasing the sum of Rs 2,000 the state government gives to poor people to cremate family members.
This opened Pandora’s box. Echoing allegations made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then BJP president Amit Shah during the Lok Sabha poll campaign, hundreds of people, ranging from landless farmers to businessmen, started publicly naming TMC leaders who took money from them. The TMC launched the ‘Didi ke Balo’ (Tell Didi or the chief minister) helpline where people could register their grievance.