TT, Calcutta, Aug. 19: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today issued her “last warning” against involvement of Trinamul civic councillors in illegal activities such as the running of syndicates and extortion rackets.
In one of her most virulent speeches in recent memory, Mamata took to the cleaners her party’s councillors from various civic bodies during a closed-door meeting at Nazrul Manch, saying people had “learnt about syndicates from you”.
“Mamata 2.0″, said Trinamul sources, was on a “mission” today to drive home the message that the arrest of Salt Lake councillor Anindya Chatterjee was not an aberration and those defying the party line on syndicates, extortion and other corrupt practices would not be forgiven.
A senior Trinamul MLA said the chief minister was “sick and tired” of receiving complaints daily, sometimes till 1.30-2am, against councillors allegedly misusing their power and making money through corrupt means.
“Today, she made no bones about her intent to clip the wings of those audacious enough to place themselves before the party,” he said.
According to the MLA, the chief minister was “especially annoyed” at the steady flow of complaints from the Salt Lake-New Town belt, which is why she named the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation and the municipalities of Dum Dum and South Dum Dum during her speech.
Some of Mamata’s warnings at the meeting, as quoted by sources present at the session:
Warning: “You only know how to keep yourselves busy with syndicates. People from all over the state have learnt about syndicates from you…. One of our Bidhannagar councillors (Chatterjee) is in jail. It should be a matter of shame for all of us.”
“If somebody thinks that he or she is bigger than the party, the party will not spare the person.”
Context: Salt Lake’s Ward 41 councillor Chatterjee was arrested on the chief minister’s instructions for alleged extortion last month. Sources in the government attributed the move to a complaint from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who told Mamata that a friend in the township was not being allowed to carry out construction in his house because he had refused to meet an extortion demand.
Sources said Mamata was livid after receiving a complaint from the Prime Minister of a neighbouring country about alleged extortion by a councillor of her party and his aides.
Warning: “Permission from councillors is not necessary for building two-three-storey houses. We must all obey the law. You are stopping work for money…. If somebody is taking money in the name of sanctioning plans, he or she will not be spared. There are councillors demanding Rs 30-40 lakh for doing their duty. If such is the extent of their audacity, I will clip wings. If you are up to mischief, I will not spare you. We have to be stern.”
Context: In early July, the chief minister’s office had intervened to throw a protective ring of policemen around the house of a Keshtopur resident who had been targeted by a syndicate allegedly controlled by a Trinamul councillor. The resident had not been allowed to get a puja room built by a contractor of his choice. He could do so after lodging the complaint with the CMO and receiving police protection.
Barely a fortnight later, the police arrested several members of a syndicate allegedly backed by Trinamul after the group stalled a central government project in Salt Lake’s DP Block and threatened the site supervisor with murder if construction materials were not procured from it.
Warning: “Councillors are busy with (currency) notes or with conspiracy. Instead of notes, focus on votes. Do not get in the way of people’s needs. Those preoccupied with notes are here for the short term. Think long term. Those here to make some money in two years will not be spared by the law, the party or the society. Figure out what you want to do.”
“We lost many civic areas (in the Assembly polls) because we only looked after our own interests and fulfilled our own needs in a nexus with contractors. Those doing wrong, discard them.”
Context: At a party meeting in June, Mamata had blamed the “feudal mindset” and the “attitude problem” of councillors for the lacklustre results in civic areas in the Assembly polls. Although Trinamul won 211 of the 294 seats, it trailed in 67 civic areas across the state, which Mamata considers “alarming”.
Since the June meeting, the chief minister has been stressing on the need for councillors to change their ways for the party to do well in civic areas. But today was the first time she blamed councillors involved in corrupt practices for the electoral disappointment.
Warning: “Do not fight among yourselves. Work for the people. Do not be corrupt yourselves, do not let others be corrupt…. Consider this as your last warning.”
Context: Factional feuds have been one of the biggest problems for the ruling party in the past few years. Mamata had issued several warnings but to little effect.
Trinamul sources said the chief minister believed that the party would win elections more easily if it could get around the problem of infighting. They said Mamata was of the opinion that Trinamul would have won at least 15 more seats in the Assembly polls had infighting not been so severe.