The investigation into the Saradha scam by central agencies along with rise of Bharatiya Janata Party as a more agressive and vocal political opposition in West Bengal compared to the Left Front, has put Trinamool Congress’ biggest asset -- the image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee -- to test in the upcoming by-election.
The posters and wall-paintings of Mamata Banerjee carrying TMC’s well known slogan of satatar pratik (symbol of honesty) has, for the first time, is being challenged by the hitherto unthinkable slogan from BJP workers -- gali, gali mein shor hai, Mamata Banerjee chor hai (Slogans in the lanes term Mamata Banerjee a thief) -- reminiscent of the slogan coined against then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the backdrop of Bofors deal scandal during 1987-89.
Narendra Modi-led BJP seems focused on turning Saradha scam into Mamata Banerjee’s Bofors to accomplish its mission 2016, and the by-poll for the legislative assembly seat of Chowringhee and Basirhat Dakshin is the starting point for the saffron party. Opposition parties have enough ammunition to target the top leadership of TMC, as recent allegations are pointing towards Mamata Banerjee.
It started last week with the CBI investigation revealing a deal between tainted Saradha group and Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Ltd, a subsidiary of the Indian Railways, during West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s tenure. Banerjee during the presentation of the railway budget for 2010-2011 announced a tour project named “Bharat Tirtha” , which was jointly undertaken by IRCTC and Saradha Tours and Travels, a Saradha group company.
The deal was struck towards the end of 2010. Since then the project was operational until 2012 -- a period when railway ministry was under three TMC men -- Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy.
This was followed by former TMC MP Kunal Ghosh’s outbrust alleging that Mamata Banerjee was the 'biggest beneficiary' of the Saradha scam.
“For truth to emerge, Mamata should be questioned by CBI in front of me and Sudipta,” Ghosh, who was arrested in connection to the scam last year, said recently.
The Left and the Congress, too, are raising voice, questioning the chief minister, but the BJP has certainly taken the lead as far as making it an electoral issue is concerned. During Lok Sabha election campaign, Narendra Modi made Saradha the focus of his campaign agenda in Bengal.
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah is taking it forward now and it was at his rally on Sunday where the Gali, gali mein shor hai. . . slogan was heard.
Electorally, BJP has good reasons to focus on the by-election to make their way into the state assembly as on the basis of Lok Sabha election BJP was leading in Basirhat Dakhin Seat and in Chowringhee, where Congress was leading in Lok Sabha, BJP hopes put up a good show in a four way battle between TMC, Left, Congress and BJP.
“More than 2,000 farmers had lost their land in Nandigram and Singur and you had gone on fast protesting against that injustice.
"But in this Saradha scam more than 1.7 million people of Bengal have lost their deposits.
"Why don’t you (Mamata) feel like sitting on a fast against this scam? Why aren’t you coming down on the roads for those who lost their savings?” Shah said on Sunday, making it apparent that the target was Banerjee.
The seats were left vacant as Shikha Mitra of Trinamool Congress, the MLA from Chowringhee left the party and joined Congress, and Narayan Mukherjee who was the MLA from Basirhat Dakshin passed away.
Image: Mamata Banerjee; Photograph: Reuters