Few things have hurt the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal as much as the local corruption of its leaders. The state’s formidable list of welfare schemes is overshadowed by bribes, often called “cut money” locally. Trinamool leaders take a cut from any cash transfer that is provided to a citizen. Failure to provide “cut money” could result in delayed or no services.
Aware of this perception, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee made a dramatic statement in an organisation meeting last week, warning party leaders that anyone caught taking a bribe would be arrested. She also asked leaders to return any “cut money” they had taken from the people of their area.
Earlier, on June 10, the chief minister had opened a new grievance cell where people could call in to complain about corruption in the delivery of government schemes.
However, Banerjee’s intervention comes at a time when public anger against bribery is reaching a crescendo, as can be seen from a song going viral on social media. Sung by Nachiketa Chakraborty, a prominent Trinamool supporter earlier, the song sarcastically asks the party leaders to return “cut money”.
“Kheyechhen jara cut money, dadara othoba didimoni / Eshechhe shomoy, gotimoy, daant kyalatey kyalatey pherot din, ashchhe din, dakchhe din (Those who took bribes, dadas or didis, it’s time to return it with a sheepish grin, that day is coming, that day is calling),” begins the song. While the lyrics don’t name anyone, “didi” or elder sister is how Mamata Banerjee is commonly addressed or referred to.
“Montri othoba amla, jonorosh ebarey shamla/ Tulbey chamra, oshadhu damra, batashey bajchhe rudrobeen (Minister or bureaucrat, now manage the public’s rage; they’ll flay you, rogue bullies, the rudra veena is playing in the wind),” sings Nachiketa.
Cut money chaos
The anger that Nichiketa sings of is already coming true. Following Banerjee’s statement, Trinamool leaders flagged the possibility of chaos if they were truly to return cut money. Trinamool MP Satabdi Roy pointed out that bribe money wasn’t only confined to the grassroots but had made its way up the command chain of the party. “Everybody has to refund it chain-wise, just as it was taken chain-wise. Otherwise, returning money that has gone into one’s coffers is a difficult task,” argued Roy, warning people that any return of cut money will result in “chaos”.
On Saturday, a pregnant Trinamool panchayat member in Birbhum district fled her home, fearful of being gheraoed by a mob asking for a return of “cut-money”. The Bharatiya Janata Party has organised gheraos of several panchayat members in the district already.