Narendra Modi attacks Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress over Saradha scam
BJP’s PM nominee says if BJP is voted to power, it will launch investigations into Saradha scam
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Kolkata: Prime ministerial nominee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Narendra Modi, on Sunday joined the Congress and the Left parties in attacking West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress government for its inability to stop deposit-taking companies from duping savers.
For the first time, Modi directly attacked Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee over the Saradha Group collapse, saying at a rally near Kolkata on Sunday that if the BJP is voted to power, it will launch investigations by central agencies and get to the bottom of the controversy.
It was a departure from Modi’s earlier stance, when he had asked Banerjee to support a BJP-led coalition at the Centre. He had said at a rally in Kolkata in early February that the BJP at the Centre would help Banerjee “realize” the change that West Bengal’s voters had voted for when they ended Left Front’s 34-year rule in 2011.
No one will be spared, Modi said addressing a huge gathering at Uttarpara. “Such a big scam...who are you shielding?” he asked. He even took a potshot at Congress for trying to cover up, while promising victims that the BJP if given an opportunity will do justice.
The Saradha Group was one of eastern India’s biggest deposit-taking companies, which ran aground a year ago. A inquiry commission investigating the scam has estimated that it received at least Rs2,000 crore in public deposits from savers in West Bengal and neighbouring states such as Odisha, Jharkhand and Assam.
Surprisingly, a year after it collapsed, it has become a major election issue though in the elections that immediately followed (to village councils and civic bodies) the Trinamool Congress managed to extend its gains. The controversy was lately stirred up central investigating agencies trying to wade into the probe.
The West Bengal government, which formed the commission headed by a retired high court judge and a special investigation team to probe the scam, has been opposing investigation by central agencies.
Lately though the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has forcibly entered the investigation, saying it sniffed money laundering. It has even detained and interrogated people, including a Trinamool Congress leader contesting the Lok Sabha elections.
Banerjee had initially said that ED’s entry into the probe was politically motivated—a brainchild of outgoing finance minister P. Chidambaram—and intended at maligning Trinamool Congress leaders. She has lately been saying that her government didn’t care if the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), too, launched a probe.
On Saturday, Chidambaram denied Banerjee’s allegations, even as he attacked the Trinamool Congress for obstructing a fair probe into the scam.
The BJP is the latest to take advantage of the situation.
Trinamool Congress leaders said both the Congress and the BJP were using the Saradha controversy not only as a key campaign plank but also as a handle to pressure the party to join the treasury bench in the new government.
The Trinamool Congress, which is widely seen as emerging the largest regional party, has said that it wants to maintain equidistance from both the Congress and the BJP. But in the event of a fractured mandate, the Trinamool Congress could hold the key to the formation of a coalition to rule at the Centre, leaders in Kolkata said, asking not to be named.
Launching a personal attack on Banerjee, Modi said on Sunday that if the BJP was voted to form a government at the Centre, it will dig into sale of her paintings. She may be a good painter, selling her works for up to Rs15 lakh a canvas, but who paid close to Rs1.8 crore for one of her paintings and why, he asked.
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