KOLKATA: When West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee launched internal cleansing in her Trinamool Congress five days ago, asking party leaders to refund the cut money — euphemism for bribe — they collected from beneficiaries of the government’s welfare schemes, she couldn’t have imagined it would open a Pandora’s box.
For, elected members in municipalities and gram panchayats have been facing hundreds of people lining up at their doorsteps seeking refunds ever since.
Public anger peaked on Sunday at two places, with agitators forcing local leaders to give written declarations that they would refund the money they took as commission.
Angry villagers surrounded the houses of elected gram panchayat members at over 15 places in south Bengal on Sunday. At Oushgram in East Burdwan, local Trinamool leader Ujjwal Mondal admitted he had taken Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 from the beneficiaries of government schemes for running his party’s ‘welfare activities’ in the area.
Mondal had to give it in writing that he would refund the money. At Mangalkot nearby, three panchayat members — Kalimoy Ganguly, Apurba Ghosh and Raghunath Mondal — were similarly forced to give an undertaking in writing.
Over 50 villagers demonstrated before another panchayat member Jhilik Dutta at Sonamukhi in Bankura.
Two party leaders in Nanoor of Birbhum district, too, faced similar public anger.
Manimala Bagdi, a pregnant panchayat member of Fulur panchayat in Birbhum, had to flee her home fearing attack by villagers from whom her party’s leaders had extorted money.
Her husband Dalim said, “We are poor and know nothing about cut money. Local Trinamool leaders requested me to field my wife as a candidate on the seat reserved for women.”
In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made Trinamool’s extortion a major political plank.
Senior Trinamool leaders saw in Mamata’s instructions an admission of corruption within the party.
“She realised corruption will hurt the party in the civic body elections in 2020 and Assembly elections in 2021,’’ said a senior Trinamool leader in Kolkata.