Bengal Scenario

Political Corruption: Yesterday and Today

Sukanta Sarkar

Nowadays in West Bengal ‘SSC Scam’ or one can say scam related to teachers’ recruitment, which involves multi-crore rupee transactions, is widely discussed. Central Agencies have been investigating it for quite some time. In truth they have already arrested some important actors including a senior cabinet minister of State Government and an ex-vice chancellor. Besides SSC Scam they have been monitoring cow and coal smuggling cases as well. In connection with cow smuggling a heavy weight leader of the ruling party and some of his close associates are languishing in jail. Given the crisis situation the ruling Trinamul Congress is regularly facing flak from the Opposition and media.

The party led by Mamata Banerjee has been in power since 2011. After 2 years ‘Sarada Chit Fund’ scandal came into focus and some big wigs of the party were arrested. Also, a State Cabinet Minster was in the net. Now he is on bail. These two are the big issues of corruption of the Mamata regime at the moment. And opposition leaders lose no opportunity to grill Ms Banerjee in assembly all the time as they see in her the real mastermind of all these corrupt practices, albeit they forget their own past. Reports and allegations of economic corruption relating to cut money, syndicate atrocities and extortion at the local level by a section of leaders and activists of the ruling party are being exposed continuously in the media, particularly in dozens of TV channels. Yet, everything goes on in business as usual fashion. Nothing concrete happens other than a few arrests and judicial activism.

Common people of West Bengal are shocked. But there is nothing new in economic corruption, nepotism, extortion, fraud by the operators of ruling party. It was endemic during the Congress rule in the ’70s. It also existed in 34 years of Left Front governance. Then why people of West Bengal are surprised today? Because the scale of corruption is so enormous that it was unthinkable even a decade ago.

Today allegations of extortion, cut money, oppression of syndicate come in the name of individual leaders of the ruling party but, earlier it had been done in the name of the then ruling Party by a section of influential leaders. At that time people saw nepotism and partisan culture in recruitment in government jobs, particularly in recruitment of teachers in primary and secondary schools. After assuming power in 1977 Left Front led by the CPIM started well with a clean slate; initially people, especially lower-middle class and poor people were feeling happy with Left Front. Their Operation Barga programme drew international attention. But, after a few years they –ruling ‘marxists’ and their partners in crime–began to put their own people almost in every institution, small, medium and large, particularly in schools, cooperatives, local administrative bodies. In many places they recruited party cadres or their close relatives as teaching and non-teaching staff in the academy, blatantly violating all rules and democratic norms. At that time none heard any major economic transaction about recruitment, rather, in plain language, selling of government jobs with premium. But, after mid-‘80s allegations about bribe regarding recruitment in school, college, cooperative, municipality, panchayat, factory, jute mill began to surface. In the name of local party or mass-organisations they used to take money but the quantum was not as high as it is today. It was 10 to 60-70 thousand only (now 5 lakh to 15-20 lakh is the norm). Particularly, in the municipality, school, college, cooperative bank recruitment the scenario is horrible. In the mid- ‘90s the state CPIM top leadership realised what was going on and that its fallout wouldn’t be healthy for the party in future as it would jeopardise their electoral fortunes. They took some steps to stop these corrupt practices. But the vices had already spread extensively in the party structure from top to bottom. This was a kind of cancerous growth defying solution. In due season a section of powerful leaders also entered in that vicious circle of corruption. These leaders grabbed government land and built private schools, colleges, medical institutions, private hospitals, private universities, hotels, resorts etc anonymously or in some relative’s name and in league with the businessmen and other professionals of dubious distinction of being called notorious. Left Front is out of power for the last 12 years and CPIM and their allies who were engaged in loot in yester years are in a very bad shape organisationally but private schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, hotels, resorts , real estates built by some of their ‘comrades’ are doing very well today and earning crores of rupees. Change in government is no problem for them. Capitalism with Marxist tag is fine! Party card holders are enjoying bonanza of neo-liberalism in so many ways.

Cooperative sector was a major area of nepotism during the Left Front rule, particularly, in the cooperative banking establishments. In most cases local CPIM leaders were instrumental in managing cooperative bank recruitment. They used to provide jobs to their family members in addition to party activists. Not only that, huge amount of loans from the cooperative banks found their destination to their own people. In maximum cases the beneficiaries did not repay as it is the case with India’s corporate tycoons in respect of their astronomical borrowings from nationalised banks. Because of this kind of bad loans a large number of cooperative banks in the state are now on the verge of liquidation.

Then allegations of extortion from promoters by the local bosses of the party in many places were very common in those days. Apart from that in the name of party or mass organisations’ different programmes, cultural or otherwise, they used to collect ‘donation’ from government employees, teachers, professors and traders, big or small, on several occasions round the year.

Corruption in politics in India has so far been institutionalised. As per the report of Transparency International (TI), an international survey agency and watch dog, ‘India has the highest share of bribery in Asia (39%), as well as the greatest proportion of citizens exploiting personal connections (46%). India has the highest level of political corruption, which is the primary cause of rising corruption cases.’

What Anand Singh of the HIdayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur, said on political corruption in India, may not be out of place to quote here: ‘there is no one-size-fits-at all explanation for political corruption, and the amount of corruption, and the forms it takes, vary consistently with the political environment. The degree and nature of corruption vary depending on the sort of regime under which it occurs.’

Back to Home Page

Vol 55, No. 37, Mar 12 - 18, 2023