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Modi-Shah to prepare the ground for Bengal elections

Home Minister will visit state for a day on October 17 and Prime Minister will address virtual rally on October 22

Deborah Grey 13 Oct 2020

Modi Shah

Looks like West Bengal is still the most coveted state for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address a virtual rally on October 22 when Durga Puja festivities begin in the state, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is likely to visit the state on October 17. On his day long visit, Shah is expected to hold meetings with not only party members and prominent citizens, but also members of the Gorkha community and tea estate workers.

This will be Shah’s first visit to the state after his visit in March before the national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During his previous visit Shah had tried to build support for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In his speech he squarely blamed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for scaring minorities by misleading them about CAA.

He had accused Banerjee of “triggering riots” and “burning trains”. He also accused Mamata Banerjee of neglecting “Sharanaarthi” (refugees) facing persecution, and caring only about “Ghuspethiye” (infiltrators), thereby demarcating migrants along communal lines. He asked, “Mamata didi, why are you opposed to giving citizenship to Namshudras and Dalits? Why do you not consider refugees as your own people? Why are you only concerned about infiltrators?”

Assembly elections are due in West Bengal next year when 294 seats will be up for grabs. Opportunists on both sides of the political divide have already started jumping ship and switching sides. This has led to heartburn among BJP loyalists, many of whom feel sidelined as new entrants from other parties are being rewarded with tickets and seats while old hands are allegedly ignored.

In June the BJP dropped Chandra Kumar Bose as one of its Vice Presidents, leading the grand-nephew of freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to speculate that it might have been due to his stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Recently, at a meeting in Delhi BJP’s West Bengal President Dilip Ghosh, national-Vice President Mukul Roy, national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Rahul Sinha, met with the central leadership of the party to chalk out election strategy.

It is noteworthy that Rahul Sinha had recently been replaced as national general secretary in a major reshuffle in West Bengal. To add salt to Sinha’s wounds, he has been replaced by Anupam Hazra, who was previously with the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC).

Sinha, who has been with the party for four decades was shocked and hurt by the sudden and unceremonious move. He had taken to Twitter in a video message saying, “I have served the BJP for 40 years. And how have I been rewarded? I have been replaced by someone who has come from Trinamool Congress!”

His replacement Anupam Hazra has served as Trinamool MP from Bolpur, which is currently an AITC stronghold. Hazra had been jettisoned from the AITC in January 2019. After joining the BJP he contested elections from Jadhavpur, but was trounced by AITC’s Mimi Chakraborty.

Meanwhile, Bolpur was in the news recently when in August, 2020, AITC members allegedly vandalised property at Rabindranath Tagore’s Vishwa Bharati University. The entire area including the wider Birbhum district, has a history of communal violence. The rivalry between AITC and BJP has been growing stronger too.

In the 2016 elections the All India Trinamool Congress managed to hold on to power under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. But a relentless BJP pushed hard in elections and byelections for different levels of government. From single digit presence in its previous innings, the BJP managed to win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections.

The BJP’s favourite argument against Banerjee is that her government engages in appeasement of Muslims. What the BJP fails to understand is that Bengal has a syncretic culture and Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people hailing from indigenous or tribal communities have coexisted peacefully in the region for centuries. BJP’s actions appear to suggest that it hopes to draw political capital by creating a communal divide in the state.

Take for instance how it played up the whole incident surrounding the alleged assault on a Sikh man by cops in Howrah during a protest march to Nabanna by BJP’s youth wing. A video showing 46-year-old Balwinder Singh being physically assaulted by the police went viral on Friday. However, West Bengal Police later clarified that the scuffle ensued when police discovered that the man was carrying a firearm and tried to retrieve it and that the man’s pagdi fell off ‘automatically’.

The police issued the following clarification on Twitter:

 

 

Now look at how Dilip Ghosh, Kailash Vijayvargiya and other BJP leaders spun the story:

 

 

The use of the word ‘Jihadi’ to describe a youth arrested during the Tikiyapara clashes appears to be yet another example of painting all Muslims are ‘Jihadi’. The youth identified as Sakib had reportedly kicked a policeman during an attack on uniformed policemen by a mob of over 200 people on April 28. Sakib was arrested four days after the incident, and when police realized that he was the sole breadwinner for a family of ten people, they provided the family with rations.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has been in the eye of one storm after another; not all storms are figuratve. Not only did Banerjee face flak for handling the state in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, allegations were made about a scam that allegedly took place with the blessings of powerful people in the government.

Cyclone Amphan had caused widespread destruction in North and South 24 Parganas, East Midnapur, Kolkata, Hoogly and Howrah. At least 87 people were killed and thousands of others lost not only their homes, but also their livelihood as farmlands and standing crop were submerged under several feet of water. Fishing boats and vessels were destroyed. Livestock died due to drowning or being swept away.

The West Bengal Government announced a Rs 6,250 crore cyclone relief package. It also set up an Amphan Cyclone Relief Fund soliciting donations to help with relief efforts. But funds that were meant to be given to people help them rebuild their homes were allegedly directed to people who were close to powerful local politicians. An investigation by Indian Express has revealed that relatives of politically powerful members of Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads in cyclone-affected districts were approved for compensation despite there being no damage to their homes. The IE investigation also reveals how one Kalipodo Das was listed as father of at least three people in the Kalinagar gram panchayat and how all three people turned out to be unrelated. Also, the name Kalipodo Das exists only on paper! IE also revealed another such case in Uluberia in Howrah where one Tarun Pramanik has been listed as the father of nine beneficiaries from different faiths! Moreover, names of people who are long dead appeared on the list of beneficiaries!

This even as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) appears to have reinvested vigorously in investigating the chit fund scam in the state. In July, the CBI registered as many as 30 First Information Reports (FIR) in connection with a chit fund scam in West Bengal. According to the Economic Times, FIRs have been registered for frauds ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 crore.

The Saradha Group, an umbrella organisation of over 200 private players started a chit-fund, promising investors high returns. It was launched in the early 2000s by businessman Sudipto Sen. But eventually it turned out to be just a ponzi scheme aimed at small investors. The fund collected over Rs 2,500 crores from 1.7 million investors spread across not just West Bengal, but also Assam, Tripura and Odisha.

 Sudipto Sen reportedly bought paintings by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for a whopping Rs 1.8 crores. However, he denied having purchased the paintings. This however, drags Banerjee into the case making her the most powerful politicians to be allegedly associated with Sen.

Another AITC MP Kunal Ghosh was appointed CEO of a media group in which Saradha had invested over Rs 900 crores. Though the party subsequently suspended Ghosh, it wasn’t before he allegedly implicated Mukul Roy (who was then a close confidante of Banerjee) and 12 others in the case.

Another AITC heavyweight Srinjoy Bose was also allegedly involved in the media operations of the Saradha group. WB Transport Minister Madan Mitra allegedly headed the employee’s union of the group.

Since the scam broke two key players; Mukul Roy and Himanta Biswa Sarma have jumped ship and joined the BJP. Roy, as mentioned earlier, was one of Mamata Banerjee’s closest confidantes and was in fact one of the founding members of the AITC. Roy was questioned by the CBI for 8 hours in 2015. He maintains that he had been questioned by investigation authorities not as a suspect, but as a witness. After the questioning, Roy, who had been the General Secretary, was reduced to just being a member and Banerjee reportedly started distancing herself from Roy. He joined the BJP in November 2017.   

But the case of Himanta Biswa Sarma is quite different. At present he is the Deputy Chief Minister of Assam and holds several key portfolios including Health, Finance and Education. He is often said to be the most powerful man in Assam, with his influence said to even exceed that of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

At the time when the Sarasha scandal broke Sarma was a Congress politician and a close associate of veteran leader Tarun Gogoi. It is alleged that he played a key role in helping the group expand its operations in Assam and was paid handsomely for his efforts. However, nothing has been proved conclusively so far, though Sudipto Sen allegedly named him in an 18-page confession letter that was released by Mamata Banerjee in February 2019 during the infamous tussle with the center involving Rajeev Kumar.


Related:

Chaos in Kolkata as BJP members clash with cops
Has the Bengal BJP become self-destructive?
Was Netaji’s kin dropped from BJP VP post for stand against CAA-NRC?
CBI reinvests vigorously in WB chit-fund case investigations
Amphan Relief Fund scam hits WB
WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border
WB bye elections: TMC knocks the wind out of BJP, wins all three constituencies
Amit Shah's venomous vitriol and political myopia in West Bengal

Modi-Shah to prepare the ground for Bengal elections

Home Minister will visit state for a day on October 17 and Prime Minister will address virtual rally on October 22

Modi Shah

Looks like West Bengal is still the most coveted state for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address a virtual rally on October 22 when Durga Puja festivities begin in the state, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is likely to visit the state on October 17. On his day long visit, Shah is expected to hold meetings with not only party members and prominent citizens, but also members of the Gorkha community and tea estate workers.

This will be Shah’s first visit to the state after his visit in March before the national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During his previous visit Shah had tried to build support for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In his speech he squarely blamed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for scaring minorities by misleading them about CAA.

He had accused Banerjee of “triggering riots” and “burning trains”. He also accused Mamata Banerjee of neglecting “Sharanaarthi” (refugees) facing persecution, and caring only about “Ghuspethiye” (infiltrators), thereby demarcating migrants along communal lines. He asked, “Mamata didi, why are you opposed to giving citizenship to Namshudras and Dalits? Why do you not consider refugees as your own people? Why are you only concerned about infiltrators?”

Assembly elections are due in West Bengal next year when 294 seats will be up for grabs. Opportunists on both sides of the political divide have already started jumping ship and switching sides. This has led to heartburn among BJP loyalists, many of whom feel sidelined as new entrants from other parties are being rewarded with tickets and seats while old hands are allegedly ignored.

In June the BJP dropped Chandra Kumar Bose as one of its Vice Presidents, leading the grand-nephew of freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to speculate that it might have been due to his stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Recently, at a meeting in Delhi BJP’s West Bengal President Dilip Ghosh, national-Vice President Mukul Roy, national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Rahul Sinha, met with the central leadership of the party to chalk out election strategy.

It is noteworthy that Rahul Sinha had recently been replaced as national general secretary in a major reshuffle in West Bengal. To add salt to Sinha’s wounds, he has been replaced by Anupam Hazra, who was previously with the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC).

Sinha, who has been with the party for four decades was shocked and hurt by the sudden and unceremonious move. He had taken to Twitter in a video message saying, “I have served the BJP for 40 years. And how have I been rewarded? I have been replaced by someone who has come from Trinamool Congress!”

His replacement Anupam Hazra has served as Trinamool MP from Bolpur, which is currently an AITC stronghold. Hazra had been jettisoned from the AITC in January 2019. After joining the BJP he contested elections from Jadhavpur, but was trounced by AITC’s Mimi Chakraborty.

Meanwhile, Bolpur was in the news recently when in August, 2020, AITC members allegedly vandalised property at Rabindranath Tagore’s Vishwa Bharati University. The entire area including the wider Birbhum district, has a history of communal violence. The rivalry between AITC and BJP has been growing stronger too.

In the 2016 elections the All India Trinamool Congress managed to hold on to power under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. But a relentless BJP pushed hard in elections and byelections for different levels of government. From single digit presence in its previous innings, the BJP managed to win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections.

The BJP’s favourite argument against Banerjee is that her government engages in appeasement of Muslims. What the BJP fails to understand is that Bengal has a syncretic culture and Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people hailing from indigenous or tribal communities have coexisted peacefully in the region for centuries. BJP’s actions appear to suggest that it hopes to draw political capital by creating a communal divide in the state.

Take for instance how it played up the whole incident surrounding the alleged assault on a Sikh man by cops in Howrah during a protest march to Nabanna by BJP’s youth wing. A video showing 46-year-old Balwinder Singh being physically assaulted by the police went viral on Friday. However, West Bengal Police later clarified that the scuffle ensued when police discovered that the man was carrying a firearm and tried to retrieve it and that the man’s pagdi fell off ‘automatically’.

The police issued the following clarification on Twitter:

 

 

Now look at how Dilip Ghosh, Kailash Vijayvargiya and other BJP leaders spun the story:

 

 

The use of the word ‘Jihadi’ to describe a youth arrested during the Tikiyapara clashes appears to be yet another example of painting all Muslims are ‘Jihadi’. The youth identified as Sakib had reportedly kicked a policeman during an attack on uniformed policemen by a mob of over 200 people on April 28. Sakib was arrested four days after the incident, and when police realized that he was the sole breadwinner for a family of ten people, they provided the family with rations.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has been in the eye of one storm after another; not all storms are figuratve. Not only did Banerjee face flak for handling the state in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, allegations were made about a scam that allegedly took place with the blessings of powerful people in the government.

Cyclone Amphan had caused widespread destruction in North and South 24 Parganas, East Midnapur, Kolkata, Hoogly and Howrah. At least 87 people were killed and thousands of others lost not only their homes, but also their livelihood as farmlands and standing crop were submerged under several feet of water. Fishing boats and vessels were destroyed. Livestock died due to drowning or being swept away.

The West Bengal Government announced a Rs 6,250 crore cyclone relief package. It also set up an Amphan Cyclone Relief Fund soliciting donations to help with relief efforts. But funds that were meant to be given to people help them rebuild their homes were allegedly directed to people who were close to powerful local politicians. An investigation by Indian Express has revealed that relatives of politically powerful members of Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads in cyclone-affected districts were approved for compensation despite there being no damage to their homes. The IE investigation also reveals how one Kalipodo Das was listed as father of at least three people in the Kalinagar gram panchayat and how all three people turned out to be unrelated. Also, the name Kalipodo Das exists only on paper! IE also revealed another such case in Uluberia in Howrah where one Tarun Pramanik has been listed as the father of nine beneficiaries from different faiths! Moreover, names of people who are long dead appeared on the list of beneficiaries!

This even as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) appears to have reinvested vigorously in investigating the chit fund scam in the state. In July, the CBI registered as many as 30 First Information Reports (FIR) in connection with a chit fund scam in West Bengal. According to the Economic Times, FIRs have been registered for frauds ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 crore.

The Saradha Group, an umbrella organisation of over 200 private players started a chit-fund, promising investors high returns. It was launched in the early 2000s by businessman Sudipto Sen. But eventually it turned out to be just a ponzi scheme aimed at small investors. The fund collected over Rs 2,500 crores from 1.7 million investors spread across not just West Bengal, but also Assam, Tripura and Odisha.

 Sudipto Sen reportedly bought paintings by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for a whopping Rs 1.8 crores. However, he denied having purchased the paintings. This however, drags Banerjee into the case making her the most powerful politicians to be allegedly associated with Sen.

Another AITC MP Kunal Ghosh was appointed CEO of a media group in which Saradha had invested over Rs 900 crores. Though the party subsequently suspended Ghosh, it wasn’t before he allegedly implicated Mukul Roy (who was then a close confidante of Banerjee) and 12 others in the case.

Another AITC heavyweight Srinjoy Bose was also allegedly involved in the media operations of the Saradha group. WB Transport Minister Madan Mitra allegedly headed the employee’s union of the group.

Since the scam broke two key players; Mukul Roy and Himanta Biswa Sarma have jumped ship and joined the BJP. Roy, as mentioned earlier, was one of Mamata Banerjee’s closest confidantes and was in fact one of the founding members of the AITC. Roy was questioned by the CBI for 8 hours in 2015. He maintains that he had been questioned by investigation authorities not as a suspect, but as a witness. After the questioning, Roy, who had been the General Secretary, was reduced to just being a member and Banerjee reportedly started distancing herself from Roy. He joined the BJP in November 2017.   

But the case of Himanta Biswa Sarma is quite different. At present he is the Deputy Chief Minister of Assam and holds several key portfolios including Health, Finance and Education. He is often said to be the most powerful man in Assam, with his influence said to even exceed that of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

At the time when the Sarasha scandal broke Sarma was a Congress politician and a close associate of veteran leader Tarun Gogoi. It is alleged that he played a key role in helping the group expand its operations in Assam and was paid handsomely for his efforts. However, nothing has been proved conclusively so far, though Sudipto Sen allegedly named him in an 18-page confession letter that was released by Mamata Banerjee in February 2019 during the infamous tussle with the center involving Rajeev Kumar.


Related:

Chaos in Kolkata as BJP members clash with cops
Has the Bengal BJP become self-destructive?
Was Netaji’s kin dropped from BJP VP post for stand against CAA-NRC?
CBI reinvests vigorously in WB chit-fund case investigations
Amphan Relief Fund scam hits WB
WB post poll analysis: Saffron fades as one heads South along the Bangladesh border
WB bye elections: TMC knocks the wind out of BJP, wins all three constituencies
Amit Shah's venomous vitriol and political myopia in West Bengal

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