Kolkata: West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) is on a sticky wicket in the state after two of its prominent leaders—Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mandal—were arrested by Central investigating agencies for their alleged roles in the teachers’ recruitment scam and in cattle smuggling along the India-Bangladesh border, respectively.
The arrest of these two leaders has severely dented TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s “clean image”, with thousands of TMC supporters and lakhs of voters in Bengal openly raising their voice against the corruption that flourishes not only in Kolkata, but across Bengal.
Swati Mondal, a resident of North 24 Parganas, Bengal, who was one of the aspirants in the SSC (teacher’s recruitment) examination spoke to The Sunday Guardian. “What we all knew and spoke of among our friends and family is out in the open. I was one of the aspirants who had given her SSC examination in 2016, but my name did not feature on the list because I could not pay the bribe that was required for the job. This has been going on in Bengal for a very long time, but everyone turned a blind eye. Like me, there are thousands of students whose fate has been stolen by these ministers and TMC leaders. They can never be spared,” she said.
The pro-TMC sentiments in Bengal have taken a massive hit not only among the people who have been affected by the alleged SSC scam, but even among the common masses who have now started to talk openly about TMC’s corruption in tea stalls and street corners, something unheard of until now.
In the Duttapukur area of Barrackpore Lok Sabha seat near Kolkata, a tea stall full of youngsters, mostly unemployed, were heard abusing the ruling TMC for allowing such a massive scam to go on under its nose.
Ajay Roy, 25, who had come with his friends for their evening tea told this correspondent that TMC would not be spared any more. “The people of Bengal had forgiven the TMC when the Saradha scam broke, because many thought it was the CPM that was behind that scam, but this time, heaps of cash from the house of its own minister and that too at the cost of our own future, will never be tolerated by the people of Bengal.”
Some of Ajay’s friends were also questioning the silence of Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal. They say that it was impossible for Mamata Banerjee not to know what was happening in her government and by her own men, as Banerjee was aware of every little development in her state.
Not only the SSC scam, even the arrest of Anubrata Mandal has further dented the image of TMC and Mamata Banerjee among the electorate in Bengal. Mondal, TMC’s muscleman from Birbhum and Mamata Banerjee’s trusted soldier was no stranger to controversy and many say it was through his muscle power that the TMC won election after election in Birbhum district.
In fact, now many Kolkata residents who are otherwise staunch supporters of TMC and Mamata Banerjee have started speaking out against the party; they say that they expected their “Didi” (Mamata Banerjee) at least not to tolerate corruption.
“We knew that many in the TMC are corrupt leaders, but we thought that Mamata Banerjee has an iron hand and that she would not tolerate corruption. But her closest aide, Partha Chatterjee was caught with heaps of money and no one believes that Mamata Banerjee was not aware of this,” Mitali Mukherjee, a resident of Kolkata, said.
Many within the TMC have realised the damage that these arrests have done to the party. Sources within the party told this correspondent that the party was aware of the massive negative reaction it was receiving from across Bengal. A senior TMC leader, requesting anonymity, told this newspaper that several elected TMC leaders were afraid to face the people as they were being hounded by their electorate to return the “cut money” that many have taken during their tenure, as else they will have to hear uncomfortable questions from the people.
The TMC leader also said that Mamata Banerjee in her Cabinet meeting earlier in the week instructed all her ministers to pass each file through the Chief Minister’s Office and also to read every file before signing.
Unofficially, Mamata Banerjee has given the command of the party to her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who since Partha Chatterjee’s arrest is visibly taking decisions for the party. TMC sources said that in the next couple of months, Abhishek Banerjee would try to overhaul the image of the party. Such posters were also seen on the streets of Kolkata claiming that “within the next six months, there will be a new TMC”, indicating that the junior Banerjee has taken the party affairs in his own hands and that he is in consultation with I-PAC, the political consulting firm hired by the party, to give an image makeover for the TMC, before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.