By Ashis Biswas
KOLKATA: Has the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aborted its relentless campaign to expose the financial irregularities and corruption among Mamata Banerjee’s family members? The question has arisen over the sudden silence on the part of the ruling party at the Centre, after it launched its strongest and most vitriolic media campaign against the Trinamool Congress (TMC) some days ago.
Even as Kolkata-based observers seek an answer, public opinion in West Bengal remains sharply divided regarding the impact of the BJP-sponsored expose in selected national TV channels. Political responses have been intriguing, to put it mildly.
For the record, two national TV channels displayed documents that showed how Leaps and Bounds, a company owned by TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and his kin received Rs 1.15 crore by way of commission from a real estate operator with a police record, apparently to ensure protection from official harassment. The transaction took place after Mamata Banerjee became chief minister. Apart from Abhishek, who resigned from the directorship sometime later, three other ‘directors’ were his wife and parents. They cited the residential address of the chief minister as their own in all official declarations relating to the company.
Political reactions to this extraordinary disclosure linking a chief minister in power directly to financial corruption, a first in Bengal, followed no settled pattern. At one level, it reflects the utter confusion and lack of direction within the political functioning in the state .This in turn leaves common people and voters utterly confused, hardly knowing whom to believe.
Take the state BJP unit: despite claims of following up the expose with peoples’ protests on the streets, no mass actions have been seen in the State yet! None seems to be planned for the future either.
It is the same with the state Congress. With its own existential crisis at the centre and in the states, perhaps nothing can be expected from a party currently reduced to seeking the support of the TMC at the national level.
Ironically, in contrast to the state BJP and the Congress, it is the weakened Left parties that have shown more enterprise. Left leaders have demanded immediate action against both the Chief Minister and her nephew for the murky financial dealings in their public meetings. A Left-affiliated students’ protest was organised some days ago, seeking the Chief Minister’s resignation.
And that has been the sum total of political reaction to Bengal’s most dramatic political exposure in decades, involving the alleged involvement of the Chief Minister’s family!
Another major surprise has been the near total silence of the Bengal-based print and electronic media to report the matter at all. Only the briefest, highly sanitized references made in the Lok Sabha by BJP ministers and members, scrupulously avoiding all mention of the chief minister or her nephew by name, have been carried in only two out of nearly 20 dailies! Bengali language TV channels have been deafeningly silent, with producers laboriously focusing on health hazards like diabetes and the lack of pure drinking water, as major problems afflicting Bengal!
‘ Even during the 1975 emergency, we could get more sensitive stuff published one way or the other,’ recalled a veteran scribe. ‘This conspiracy of total silence, obviously driven by a physical fear of the ruling party among newsmen and media controllers, is unprecedented.’
However, one reason for the media silence was discernible on the very first day of the national TV coverage. The channel’s local correspondent was unceremoniously summoned to report at the local thana by telephone and later, by special messenger, without any assigned reason!
The next day, as the coverage continued and TMC leaders ranging from MP Saugata Ray, Derek O’brien and Dinesh Trivedi ran for cover from media persons, a lawyer representing Abhishek Banerjee threatened to file a libel suit because the right of reply had not apparently been exercised.
Banerjee was having his eyes checked at a Hyderabad hospital, (although the state government prides itself on the quality of government-run hospitals in Kolkata). By way of providing security for him, the state had sent over six policemen, five cars and arranged for two fire tenders!
Up to this point, matters were proceeding normally. NDA minister Prakash Javdekar called for Mamata’s resignation and wanted clear answers from the TMC on the allegations made against it. Kailash Vijaybargia told media persons that more instances of the TMC’s corruption would be exposed in the days ahead. BJP MP Kirit Somaya referred to the disclosures in the Lok Sabha.
By now, coming in the wake of Tejashwi Yadav’s alleged illegal financial dealings in Bihar, the dubious dealings of the Leaps and Bounds company had come to be called the ‘Bhatijagate scam’!
The total silence on part of the TMC leaders has been remarkable, but it also strengthens fears among TMC loyalists that the exposure cannot be denied effectively, with documents and correspondence available in the public domain.
‘We understand TMC’s position, it is on the back foot. We also understand the limitations of the Congress. But what about the BJP, why has it gone all silent on the issue? Are they really serious about fighting the TMC?’ —- has been a question asked by political observes and commoners alike.
Perhaps CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim had correctly summed up the situation: ‘I won’t be surprised if Modi-bhai and Mamata-behen will still work out an understanding, each protecting the other: look at the record of the so-called Lok Sabha Ethics Committee set up to explore the Narada-sting scam, showing TMC MPs, minister and leaders pocketing large sums of cash. Did chairman L.K Advani call for a single meeting of the committee? No. I wonder why not,’ he told newsmen.
As of now, political analysts can only share Salim’s bemusement. (IPA Service)