Negative Feedback On Corruption In Party Ranks Worries Mamata Banerjee, But Her Course Correction Bid Likely To Be Futile

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jun 9, 2020 08:02 AM
Negative Feedback On Corruption In Party Ranks Worries Mamata Banerjee, But Her Course Correction Bid Likely To Be FutileBengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Snapshot
  • Trinamool insiders say that the allegedly corrupt functionaries are well entrenched in the party. Angering them or ousting them will cost the Trinamool dear.

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee has been receiving upsetting feedback about corruption, nepotism and wrongdoings by her party colleagues from Prashant Kishor’s team and other sources, including some trusted officers.

The corruption and misdeeds by Trinamool functionaries, especially in distributing relief during the lockdown and then to those affected by cyclone Amphan, has caused considerable erosion of support, especially in South Bengal that is considered to be Trinamool’s bastion.

Desperate to arrest this erosion of popular support and refurbish her ‘clean’ image, she has started publicly distancing herself from the corruption in her party and initiated a course-correction.

She has been issuing public warnings to Trinamool functionaries of expulsion from the party if they are found to be indulging in corruption and other misdeeds.

The latest such warning was issued by her last weekend while addressing her party MLAs and MPs via video-conferencing. Trinamool leaders said she was furious and warned that corruption would not be tolerated.

In the past, too, she has issued similar warnings to her party leaders and functionaries. She has warned Trinamool functionaries against being involved in syndicates (extortion rackets) that are omnipresent in Bengal and generate thousands of crores of rupees (read this, this and this).

After the setbacks suffered by the Trinamool in the Lok Sabha polls last year, the Trinamool chief asked her party colleagues to return cut money (‘cut money’ means commissions) they have received.

That call sparked agitations against many allegedly corrupt Trinamool leaders at the district level by people demanding return of the commissions the leaders had charged for providing jobs or sanctioning benefits under various government welfare schemes.

But all of Banerjee’s exhortations and warnings have failed to make Trinamool functionaries mend their ways. That’s because corruption and the practice of ‘cut money’ and extortionist ‘syndicates’ is too deeply entrenched to be rooted out so easily.

And in investment-starved Bengal that has few big industries, it is these syndicates which keep the wheels of the Trinamool well-oiled.

“It is not that the party leaders at the gram panchayat level who take cut money keep the entire sum to themselves. They have to contribute to the party coffers and also give a substantial share to senior leaders,” said a district-level Trinamool functionary in Kolkata’s adjoining North 24 Parganas district.

“With the crucial assembly polls due a year from now, the Trinamool is desperate to replenish its coffers. Perhaps sensing imminent defeat next year, Trinamool leaders are also engaged in a desperate attempt to make as much money as they can. They also need money to bribe voters and indulge in electoral malpractices, and that is why corruption within the Trinamool ranks has increased of late,” reasoned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national secretary Rahul Sinha.

Political strategist Prashant Kishor, who has reportedly been engaged by Mamata Banerjee to reverse her flagging political fortunes, has stationed a large team in Bengal.

The 'Didi ke bolo' campaign, intended to redress people’s grievances is designed and run by this team, and has been deluged by complaints of corruption and many other misdeeds against Trinamool functionaries.

There have been allegations of siphoning off government relief meant for the poor during the lockdown period. Many Trinamool functionaries have been accused of diverting relief like food grains, and profiting from distribution of relief, thus earning them the chal-chor (rice thief) sobriquet.

Over the past two weeks since cyclone Amphan devastated large swathes of South Bengal, such allegations have mounted.

Angry accusations of large scale favouritism have surfaced against Trinamool leaders who have been charged with diverting cyclone relief meant for victims to undeserving party supporters and even their own kith and kin.

Mounting anger against the Trinamool prompted Banerjee to hit out against pervasive corruption within her party.

“She wants to shield herself and the Trinamool party from the misdeeds of corrupt party functionaries, and that is why she has been issuing warnings to them very openly,” explained the North 24 Parganas Trinamool leader.

But it may be a case of too little, too late.

And to Bengal’s long-suffering masses, such warnings have also stopped holding any meaning.

“Not a single Trinamool neta has ever been expelled on corruption charges and no action has been taken against any of them. People of Bengal know this only too well. Her warnings are all hogwash,” said BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh.

Also, say Trinamool insiders, the ‘corrupt’ functionaries are too well entrenched in the party and control the party organisation’s levers at the local level. Angering them or ousting them will cost the Trinamool very dear, and the party chief is only too well aware of that.

Hence, there is no way that any action is going to be taken against them with assembly polls less than a year away.

After receiving alarming reports of erosion of popular support due to corruption and other misdeeds by her party functionaries from Prashant Kishor’s team and her officers, Banerjee has reportedly set up a network to obtain feedback on functioning of her party colleagues at the district level.

However, even that is not likely to deter the errant Trinamool functionaries.

Because, as the North 24 Parganas party leader who enjoys a reputation of being incorruptible and has often been sidelined because of that, said, these functionaries know that they hold the keys to Trinamool’s performance in elections. Upsetting them would translate into electoral reverses, which a party that is desperate to remain in power in Bengal can ill afford.

Also read: Political slugfest over Bengal cyclone relief intensifies, BJP demands scrutiny of state claims and disbursement

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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