On December 8, 2015, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee perhaps surprised both her admirers and critics alike when she said a senior leader like Sonia Gandhi should not be summoned for personal appearance in a court of law.
“I feel bad … and sad that Sonia Gandhi was asked to appear in court. Persons who have been in politics for such a long time, it is not good that they appear in court. I feel bad about it,” Banerjee told reporters in Delhi shortly after her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
That she made the statement within minutes of her meeting with the Prime Minister was little surprising. Earlier in the day, party’s Lok Sabha floor leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay had “backed” Congress protest in the Lower House—however making it clear that his party had nothing to do with ‘The National Herald case’.
Politics over Saradha
During her visit to Delhi in December 2015, Mamata Banerjee admitted that absence of enthusiasm from AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal has virtually pricked Didi’s search for friends in national politics. “The federal front remains our goal…,” she said unhesitatingly adding these two leaders were not very keen. Mamata has been trying hard for a conglomeration of regional parties and in August 2015 held preliminary parleys with regional stalwarts like Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Farooq Abdullah. Now she has inched towards Congress also. But her politics in national canvas over Saradha is nothing new. In 2012 when she got announced pulling out of the UPA, many Bengal watchers knew the FDI retail issue was just an excuse.
The litigation in a Delhi Magisterial Court and Delhi High Court has truly left Congress leadership licking their wounds. Both Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, have
been summoned for personal appearance in the case wherin Young Indian, a new company launched by Sonia and her associates has cleverly taken over Associated Journal Ltd (AJL)—meant to publish The National Herald and Quami Awaz in Urdu.
Dr Subramanian Swamy in 2012 itself, when he had gone to the Court had called the deal “a sham, bogus, and a violation of several laws including Companies Law, the Income-Tax Act, Indian Penal Code Sections 405-08, 420, 467, and 193, Election Law, and Government Residence Allotment Rules”. Not many can disagree that the story is akin to rags to riches tale as AJL as in 2012-13 with properties across Bharat in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Allahabad, believed to be worth more than Rs 2,000 crore easily passed on to Young Indian where mother-son duo have about 76 per cent shares. Young Indian company and the first family got benefitted by the deal.
Was it a real estate gameplan?
Dr Swamy says, “Young Indian filed statements with the Registrar of Companies in March 2012, disclosing that the shareholders meetings were held in Sonia Gandhi’s government-allotted 10, Janpath. This is in violation of the law, since 10, Janpath, New Delhi, is government-provided accommodation which cannot be used for commercial purposes and business.”
But not withstanding the ‘surprise’ element in the Trinamool support to Congress both in the Parliament and outside, was a pure simple camaraderie of the Opposition camp as Sudip Bandyopadhayay, TMC floor leader in Lok Sabha, did his best to camouflage. “No one from Congress spoke to us in Lok Sabha on National Herald. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia spoke to me and sought support in their protest as Congress members were not allowed to raise Dalit issue earlier,” Bandyopadhyay said.
In her enthusiasm to extend support to ‘madam Sonia’ – Mamata forgot that Delhi High Court had rejected the plea hardly 24 hours before for exemption in appearance and had directed Sonia Gandhi and Rahul to appear before the city magistrate. An embattled Congress perhaps had their reasons to cry in and around the Parliament but Mamata Didi’s outburst was surprising even for the BJP camp in Lok Sabha. Essentially Congress was left ‘isolated’ when protesting over the court case and die-hard Congress supporters – the JD(U) also stayed away.
#Saradha money matters
Similar to Sonia-Rahul’s ‘National Herald’ controversies – Saradha’s too is a rags to riches story in speed. Probe by SIT and CBI revealed that Saradha's annual collections went up from Rs 15 million at inception to Rs 10.08 billion in 2011-12 and Rs 8.5 billion in 2012-13. While Mamata claims Saradha came into being in 2006, it is also true by 2011-12, the State government also issued circulars to only keep newspapers owned by the chit fund group in all government libraries.
Journalists in the new Banga Bhavan at Chanakyapuri, attending the high tea party hosted by Mamata on December 8, did not miss the point that probably the West Bengal Chief Minister looked “tensed”. She did not spot the characteristic smile, several scribes said later. However, mercurial Mamata sought to play safe when she did not like to term the court orders “vendetta” and added: “I know the court has its power and freedom to issue such orders….but I also have freedom to express my opinion.”
In fact, a senior Trinamool MP approached by a few journalists quickly responded saying, “it will be erroneous to link our camaraderie in Opposition camp with Saradha Chit Fund Scam”. Then, was the reason political? Is Didi apprehensive of Congress-Left tie-up for ensuing Bengal polls?
The BJP has its organisational weaknesses in West Bengal but the determination of the party workers and encouraging response from upper castes and middle class for social stratification towards it has led State unit of saffron party to pledge for a “Trinamool Mukt (free) Bengal”. It’s certainly ambitious target. In fact at a rally on December 1, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, administered an oath to the crowd who pledged “not to rest in peace till BJP came to power in Bengal”. Another BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh repeatedly said at a rally “Bhag Mamata Bhag”.
This irks Didi. And in quite helpless manner—the Saradha Chit Fund Scam probe—leaves Mamata annoyed and takes away her composure. Even in 2014 she was furious more than once against Narendra Modi. Undoubtedly BJP will again take up the Saradha Chit Fund issue with all it’s mite—a case that has already forced one of her trusted aides Mukul Roy to quit TMC.
“With three Trinamool MPs and a former West Bengal minister (Madan Mitra) in jail, it makes political sense now for TMC to join forces with the Congress. What would have been topmost in Trinamool strategists’ minds, however, is the assembly elections,” said a report in The Indian Express. Among others former MP and editor Kunal Ghosh, believed to have spoken a lot on Saradha, is still cooling his heels behind bars. In February 2015, another MP Srinjoy Bose was arrested. A day after getting bail Bose quit Mamata party and also resigned from his seat.
Moreover, after an Enforcement Directorate (ED) notice popular actor Mithun Chakborty, also Mamata’s MP in Upper House, is now likely to tender resign. The speculation remains on whether he will spill the beans before ED and other central agencies.
Mamata is again nervous about the development.
On November 26, while addressing a rally in Kolkata, Mamata had expressed apprehensions that the powers in Delhi might unleash CBI or ED against her for her comments against intolerance and threat to communal harmony. “Many have been threatened to give a false statement. They have threatened our MP Mithun Chakraborty in such a way that he can’t even talk to me,” she had claimed.
In the ultimate analysis, Saradha Chit Fund Scam shows that greed of easy money has dangerous ramifications for common people. One former DGP, Rajat Mazumdar, who had joined Trinamool after retirement was also arrested. Saradha chairman Sudipto Sen had allegedly used police vehicles and motor cycles to commute his “people” and “messengers”.
This only confirms that the higher ups were involved and only highlights the conundrum that major corruption and financial defalcation cannot be carried out without the active involvement of top political masters and those in power like the senior cops. –Nirendra Dev