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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 46, November 8, 2014

Letter from Kolkata: Saradha and Mamata Banerjee

Sunday 9 November 2014, by Amitava Mukherjee

Finally, by winding up the Justice Shyamal Sen Commission, Mamata Banerjee did what she should have done long before. There is really no point in doling out money from the State’s exchequer to refund those who have exhibited avarice by depositing their money with the Saradha while several safe avenues of investment like banks and post offices were around. Moreover taking out money from the State’s coffer and then distributing it among the Saradha depositors is both morally and legally open to question. Why should a taxpayer bear the liability of paying back money to those whom he does not even know? But the entire Saradha story repeatedly points out to Mamata Banerjee’s naivete: she continued to entertain people whom she should have avoided and she continued to rush in where even the most sagacious persons would fear to tread.

But by straying into a controversial path, Mamata Banerjee now owes a lot of answers to the people of India. It is said that she did not know about Sudipta Sen, the owner of the Saradha group, before certain TV channels closed down. The argument has logic as it is not possible for the Chief Minister of a State and a party supremo, to know everybody around. But didn’t she really know at all about the modus operandi of chit fund companies or that some of the persons close to her were, at the same time, hand in glove with Sudipta Sen? The immediate example is Kunal Ghosh whom Mamata had made a Rajya Sabha MP after bypassing and ignoring some party seniors.

Now the CBI has filed its first charge-sheet in the Saradha scam and it has named Kunal as one of the accused. It means that the CBI has rejected Kunal’s contention that he only looked after Saradha’s media wing and had no part in its financial dealings. However, Kunal’s background is interesting. He was once very close to a particular and dominating Left party of the State and took part in its processions and meetings. At a certain point of time he was with a Left leaning vernacular newspaper, named Pratidin, and used to fire regular salvos against the Saradha group. After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections he started getting close to the Trinamul Congress and with him Pratidin also changed colour and assumed the character of a supporter of the TMC.

Although Kunal Ghosh has been suspended by the TMC, yet it is still a conundrum why Mamata gave him such a long rope. He was once given the responsibility of conducting a massive TMC rally in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground when almost all the senior leaders of the party twiddled their thumbs while sitting on the dias. Kunal was even responsible behind the induction of a State Congress heavyweight into the TMC. This man has, however, left the TMC again. It is rumoured that this man had played a key role behind Kunal Ghosh’s rebellion against Mamata Banerjee.

The atmosphere in Kolkata is now thick with rumours about the TMCs alleged connections with Saradha. The media here has been pointing its accusing finger against at least one powerful Minister and another leader invested with the responsibility of looking after the party organisation without however taking their names. But their involvement in the Saradha scam still remains at the level of speculation and the local media should not have done stories which are not based on solid evidence. If the CBI finds proof against them, then it will be a different matter.

However, the progress made by the CBI so far is sufficient to embarrass the TMC and Mamata Banerjee. The arrest of Rajat Majumder, a former Director General of the West Bengal Police, is an example. Rajat said from the beginning that he was only a consultant with the Saradha group and had no involvement in its financial dealings. The CBI disbelieved him. One brochure of the Saradha group even described him as a Director. During investigation allegations cropped up that Rajat had helped Sudipta Sen while the latter was planning to flee from West Bengal.

Now who is this Rajat Majumder? He was not just a senior police officer of the State but a controversial person also. During the Left Front regime he remained in the good books of the then government. Although he had no political background, Mamata made him a vice-president of the Trinamul Congress as soon as Rajat came close to her. In addition, he became the observer of the TMC for the district of Birbhum. Certainly Mamata cannot say now that she did not know Rajat previously. If Rajat is found guilty and convicted by the court, then Mamata will have to answer many questions.

One thing now stands clear. Sudipta Sen had successfully vitiated West Bengal’s social atmosphere by roping in several characters in his operational plan. Debabrata Sarkar alias Nitu, an official of the East Bengal Football Club, has been arrested on the charge of taking money from Sudipta Sen after promising to fix up the illegalities of Sen’s business with the Reserve Bank of India and SEBI. Now this Debabrata is known to be a gentle and enterprising man. Previously he was in the business of supplying medical instruments to various State Government hospitals. He became close to a State Congress heavyweight and through him Debabrata entered into the murky waters of the Calcutta football world which is now dominated by ill-gotten wealth. During the Left Front regime he became very close to a powerful Minister and was often seen closeted with his confidential assistant in the Writers’ Building, the State’s administrative headquarters.

More interesting is the case of Sandhir Agarwal who allegedly operated in cahoot with Debabrata Sarkar and has been arrested by the CBI on the same charge, that is, pocketing the Saradha money by promising to straighten up matters with the RBI and SEBI. Sandhir is in tea and real estate business but he is known to be very close to a powerful politician in Delhi. This politician is bespectacled, short-statured and mostly wears dhoti kurta. For a long time he remained a Minister in successive cabinets and was in a position to influence policies of the Central Government.

Mamata made a serious mistake by trying to prevent any CBI inquiry into the matter. She spent crores of rupees towards engaging expensive lawyers in the High Court and Supreme Court for opposing the plea for a CBI investigation. This was nothing but an attempt to catch a straw in the midst of a high tide. But from the very beginning it was clear that a CBI investigation was inevitable as the scam had its roots in several other States including Odisha and Assam. While both Naveen Patnaik and Tarun Gogoi, the respective Chief Ministers of Odisha and Assam, welcomed the CBI investigation; Mamata left no stone unturned to oppose it. The CBI investigation has, however, proved that the Special Investigating Team (SIT) formed by the State Government to go into the Saradha scam has done precious little.

The CBI investigation into the Saradha scam is still at an initial stage. The dimensions of the scandal are vast and different sections of the society are involved in it. Even Rabin Deb, an important leader of the CPM, has been grilled by the CBI. This does not mean that Deb is guilty. But it gave enough embarrassment to the CPM. The CBI’s most important job will be to inquire into the conspiracy angle. According to available information, it has already made progress in this direction. The Enforcement Directorate has been probing where the Saradha money has gone. Lots of rumours and guessworks are doing the rounds. It is, however, certain that many influential persons had coerced Sudipta Sen to grease their own palms.

The author is a senior journalist and he can be contacted at amitava_muk@yahoo.co.in