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Why Mamatadi must own up Saradha responsibility

By Indrani Roy
Last updated on: April 24, 2013 12:48 IST
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Insensitive utterances like 'Whatever lost is lost' (as Mamata Banerjee was heard telling the media) or 'The government did not ask these people to put their money in Saradha' (as stated by one of Banerjee's cabinet ministers) will not go down well with the people of Bengal, warns Indrani Roy.

Television channels in Bengal are working overtime at the moment.

Ever since the Saradha debacle, each channel is busy conducting evening sessions of debates on the issue.

An eminent Kolkata-based economist, while airing his views on one of the television channels, termed the Saradha scandal as not an economic, but a 'political' phenomenon.

As soon as the ruling Trinamool Congress government in Bengal drew public ire for its proximity to Saradha group owner Sudipta Sen, it has started harping on the fact that the group had come into being during the Left Front regime.

Sen's 'investment business' made its debut in 2006.

Saradha has numerous companies. Some that are registered with the Registrar of Companies are just shell companies.

The company became a household name when it surfaced in the media space in 2009 through Channel 10, a Bengali news channel.

In 2010, the group launched an English daily, the Bengal Post, and a Bengali daily, Sakalbela.

With the Trinammol Congress coming to power in Bengal in 2011, group owner Sen started rubbing shoulders with those at the helm and thereby gained enormous confidence of his investors.

His group's expansion was rapid and massive.

Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member Kunal Ghosh, who was the group's media chief executive, became the face of Sen's media business.

Ghosh saw to it that all media arms of the Saradha group blindly sang praises of Trinamool supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

In November 2012, while opposing the United Progressive Alliance government's decision to introduce foreign direct investment in the retail sector, Banerjee was adamant about moving a no-confidence motion against the ruling alliance, despite being isolated by the other parties over it.

She even said she would support a no-trust motion moved by her sworn enemies, the Left parties.

Political analysts were deciphering her desperation as Banerjee's last resort to fight several investigations launched by the Centre against her party colleagues and close aides.

According to a report then published in the most circulated Bengali newspaper, the Anandabazar Patrika, Banerjee was under pressure from investigations -- one initiated by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office against a company owned by Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member K D Singh and another against various chit funds in West Bengal owned by individuals allegedly close to the Trinamool Congress party.

It was alleged in that Anandabazar Patrika report that the Trinamool government was the chief patroniser of these chit funds.

Questions were raised in various corners, but they were never

addressed and conveniently swept under the carpet.

Business in the corridors of power went on as usual and the people of Bengal watched like mute spectators as the Saradha group spent millions of rupees sponsoring cycles, motorcycles, ambulances etc that Chief Minister Banerjee distributed among the people in Jangalmahal and other backward areas of the state.

Prior to this, the state government also issued circulars to keep the chit fund-owned newspapers in all government libraries.

It was heard that the Saradha group owner had bought one of Banerjee's paintings for Rs 1.86 crore (Rs 18.6 million) and had even 'donated' a hefty amount to one cabinet minister to felicitate Brazilian footballers in an exhibition football match in Kolkata in December.

Recent media reports state that everything about the Saradha group owner was dubious.

He would have late night meetings in his office (usually past midnight), very rarely meet his employees and never ever discuss his past.

What is stranger, reports also claim that he used Kolkata Police motorcycles to commute to those late night parleys.

All these happened right under the present government's nose.

Therefore, our question is: Even if we admit that Sen's existence was sown during the Left Front rule in Bengal, how can we deny that he was nurtured with much care and attention during the Trinamool government's reign?

And though the Bengal chief minister and her team have shown great consistency in passing the buck for any wrongdoing to the erstwhile Left rule, this time, people will not buy their lame excuses.

For they have heard one of Banerjee's cabinet ministers at a public gathering openly advocating for the Saradha group and urging investors to put their money in Sen's companies as they also saw the chief minister inaugurating a newspaper by the same group before enlisting it as a mandatory purchase by all state government-run libraries.

The people of Bengal, including Saradha group investors, started putting their trust in Sen's ventures as he ensured the presence of numerous political VIPs at any event that he sponsored.

The onus now rests on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her team to stand by those who have lost their hard earned money, thanks to the Saradha fiasco.

Insensitive utterances like 'Whatever lost is lost' (as Banerjee was heard telling the media) or 'The government did not ask these people to put their money in Saradha' (as stated by one of Banerjee's cabinet ministers) will not go down well with the people.

According to political analysts, the two-year-old Trinamool Congress government has already been facing urban wrath for its high-handedness and countless illogical steps.

The Saradha issue, unless handled deftly, will severely dent the Trinammol's rural vote bank.

As a senior Kolkata journalist says, "The Trinamool should not make the mistake of underestimating the millions who lost their money. These rural folks may not quote from Shakespeare, but they understand the value of money. They will never spare those who ran away with it."

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