Why Mamata Banerjee Suddenly Realised Her Party Leaders Are Corrupt

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 25, 2024, 11:51 AM | Updated 12:10 PM IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. 
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. 
  • "As if people of Bengal don’t know who benefits from the rampant corruption and extortion,” said a Congress leader in Bengal.
  • Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched an unprecedented tirade against her senior party colleagues, including cabinet ministers, and state administration and police officials during an administrative meeting at Nabanna (the state secretariat) on Monday (24 June). 

    Heads of civic bodies, a few ministers and some select MLAs and senior police and civil administration officers who were present at the meeting were left red-faced and squirming during the 70-minute-long tongue-lashing that the Chief Minister subjected them to. 

    Banerjee listed out a number of civic woes plaguing municipal corporations and municipalities across the state and accused some of the civic chiefs as well as MLAs and police officers of corruption and extortions. 

    She singled out the Bidhannagar (Salt Lake), Howrah and Siliguri civic bodies for failing in garbage collection, waste management, supply of water, wastage of power, car parking rackets and extortions from small traders. 

    She also accused public representatives — all of them from her own party — of accepting bribes for allowing vendors to set up kiosks on pavements and government land. The Chief Minister accused civic representatives of taking money to allow illegal constructions. 

    “Why should the government’s image be tarnished because of the misdeeds of a few? If I can see malpractices, why can’t you? Why are roads dirty? Why are garbage vats overflowing? Should I take a broom and start sweeping the streets now?” she asked her party colleagues who were left completely bewildered and shamed by her diatribe. 

    Banerjee warned everyone present: “I don’t want master extortionists. I want public servants.” She warned that the non-performers and those who are corrupt will be thrown out of the party. 

    The Chief Minister, during her long harangue, referred to a sheaf of papers on her desk — notes made during the campaign for the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections as well as reports from the state CID and vigilance department — to list out the deficiencies in specific municipal bodies. 

    She reserved a lot of her ire for Fire Services Minister and Bidhannagar MLA Sujit Bose, Food Processing Minister and Howrah (Central) MLA Arup Roy, and Howrah (North) MLA Goutam Chowdhury, accusing them of large-scale extortion and corruption. 

    “Sujit Bose seems to have got into a competition to put more encroachers around Webel Bhavan (an IT Hub in Bidhannagar). Don’t think I am saying all this without proof. I know how much the hawkers had to pay,” she said. 

    Referring to illegal constructions in Howrah and Bally areas, Banerjee turned to Arup Roy and Goutam Chowdhury and said: “I know who all are taking money for all this. They are surely taking bribes. I am sorry, but I have to say this.”

    Banerjee singled out police officers as well, accusing them of allowing encroachments in exchange for huge sums of money. 

    The Chief Minister was unhappy with the flashy lifestyles of many of her party colleagues. “You go around in big cars, dine in fancy restaurants. But you don’t think of the people. How much money does one need to lead a good life?” she asked, stressing on the need for moderation. 

    Most municipal bodies, she said, “are not serving the people”. “Encroachments are being encouraged and illegal constructions permitted,” she raged. 

    Pointing out that adequate funds had been allocated for improving civic amenities, Banerjee said that despite that, civic affairs are in a mess. She called for stringent action against non-performing officials of civic bodies. She issued show-cause notices to block development officers (BDOs) in charge of civic bodies in Howrah, Haldia and Nadia. 

    Performance of officials of civic bodies will, from now on, be evaluated by a team comprising top police officers, and the committee will submit its reports directly to the Chief Minister. 

    In what is being seen as a clean-up, Banerjee announced that civic bodies will no longer be able to call tenders and award contracts for civic works; a committee comprising top civil administration and police officers will oversee the process in all civic bodies across the state. 

    The Chief Minister listed out the worst performing civic bodies: Baranagar (North Kolkata), Bally (Howrah), Alipurduar, Siliguri and Santipur (Nadia). 

    Banerjee set a 10-day deadline for improving civic services and warned that if a lot of improvement is not visible by the end of the deadline, the axe will fall on civic representatives and officials.  

    Banerjee said that in all urban areas, traders and vendors had encroached on pavements, causing hardship to pedestrians and resulting in road accidents. She said that these encroachments had been allowed in exchange for a lot of money. 

    The Chief Minister also asked civic authorities to carry out immediate surveys of all areas and demolish illegal constructions. 

    The civic mess in Bidhannagar, Howrah and Bally came in for scathing criticism from Banerjee.

    “Overflowing garbage vats, overflowing drains, illegal food shacks and stalls and illegal constructions are rampant in Bidhannagar. Bidhannagar councillors are not working at all. They don’t even notice that street lights are not working or waste is accumulating, or the conditions of roads have deteriorated. All of you have turned a blind eye to all this. I will stop everything,” she warned. 

    Why Banerjee Cracked The Whip

    The Chief Minister’s anger is understandable. Despite winning 29 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the Trinamool Congress fared badly in a majority of wards in 60 per cent of the state’s 125 civic bodies (read this). 

    Banerjee has realised that poor civic amenities, extortions by her party functionaries, non-performing civic bodies and widespread corruption are the reasons behind urban voters’ disenchantment with her party. 

    Urban areas in the state, Banerjee rightly pointed out at the meeting, are plagued by overflowing drains, uncollected garbage, very poor waste management, drinking water crises, illegal constructions, encroachments on public spaces, extortion by Trinamool functionaries who demand bribes for even small requests, and atrocities by criminals and extortionists patronised by local Trinamool functionaries. 

    Banerjee understands that the erosion of support for the Trinamool in urban areas can spell disaster for her party. 

    “Urban folks are opinion makers and play an outsized role in the state’s polity. It is not good that they are turning against us. One of the reasons for the Left’s downfall in Bengal is the erosion of support among the urban folks. Nandigram and Singur turned the urban people and intellectuals against the Left Front, leading to their eventual defeat,” Banerjee told a group of senior cabinet ministers at an informal meeting in her office chamber a few days ago. 

    But Her Tongue-Lashing Won’t Work

    Banerjee’s tongue-lashing, however, is unlikely to work. Yes, it may yield some immediate measures like drains and roads being cleaned, non-functional street lights being replaced and some roads being repaired. And even some encroachers being removed. 

    But these are most likely to be only temporary because corruption and sloth are endemic in the Trinamool and the state administrative machinery in Bengal. 

    “Mamata Banerjee may now rant and rail against extortions and huge bribes being paid for allowing illegal constructions, but didn’t she know that this has been happening over the 13 years that she has been in power in the state? How have her party functionaries sustained themselves and maintained its muscle power all these years if not through extortions and bribes?” asked a senior lawyer who was once a close aide of Banerjee but had a fallout over Trinamool’s misdeeds. 

    Eradicating the widespread corruption that plagues her party and the state machinery will be impossible, feel many. “Eradicating corruption and weeding out the corrupt from her party will be impossible since everyone in the party is corrupt. And does the CM have the moral authority to act against the corrupt when her own close relatives have been accused of corruption?” asked the lawyer. 

    A former IAS officer who has worked closely with the present dispensation and retired three years ago said: “If Mamata Banerjee cracks the whip on the corrupt in her own party, she will either face a revolt or will be left with just a handful of colleagues because most of them are corrupt. And her party will disintegrate. She will lose all her foot soldiers who sustain themselves through extortions and bribes from small traders, vendors, auto-rickshaws and rickshaw pullers. She simply cannot change the system,” said the retired bureaucrat. 

    A Fake Act, Says The Opposition

    The BJP says that Banerjee’s tongue-lashing was “only for the cameras” and for “public consumption”.

    “Why would she openly upbraid her senior party colleagues and administration and police officials with cameras running? If she was serious about cracking down on corruption, why didn’t she summarily expel her ministers who she accused of accepting bribes. She claimed she had proof about their misdeeds; then why did she not take action against them and set an example?” asked leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikari. 

    “It was all a drama meant to fool people. She tried to project herself as clean and incorruptible. But people are not fools, they know who also gets the lion’s share of bribes that are collected. People know how the Trinamool fills its coffers. So her drama will not cut any ice,” said Adhikari. 

    A senior Congress leader agreed with this. “She wants to portray to the people that she is clean and is a crusader against corruption. But who is she fooling? As if people of Bengal don’t know who benefits from the rampant corruption and extortion,” said the Congress leader who is also a senior office-bearer in the state unit of the party. 

    Banerjee has only herself to blame for this widespread perception that the act was just a drama. She has often indulged in theatrics and with her close relatives facing charges of corruption and amassing huge wealth, people cannot be blamed for questioning her credibility and looking at her with scepticism, said the Calcutta High Court lawyer who was once with the Trinamool Congress. 

    Post-script: At the end of the meeting, Banerjee told her chastened colleagues who were still hot under their collars that they should not take her tongue-lashing personally and she didn’t mean to insult anyone.

    “Take it as an appeal from me to you to work hard for people,” she said. 

    She is learnt to have dialled a few senior party colleagues like fire minister Sujit Bose and mollified them on Monday evening. 

    No wonder, then, that many have described her diatribe as a ‘fake act’ and a ‘drama’ meant only for public consumption.  

    Also read:

    Urban Bengal Is Turning Away From TMC And Mamata Banerjee's Outreach Is Unlikely To Work

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.