Incidents of TMC workers fleeing homes and being hounded by local residents have been reported from across the state
Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers in West Bengal are being hounded and driven out of their homes by locals after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's call to her party workers to return "cut money" to the people.
Banerjee, who is also the chief of TMC, had asked all the representatives of her party to return the "cut money" they had forcefully taken from beneficiaries of state welfare schemes, starting from 2011.
According to a report by The Indian Express, scores of grassroots workers from the party are now being hounded by residents of the surrounding areas to return the money.
Talking about the day when he was forced to flee his home along with his family, Pradip Chakraborty, a TMC block secretary, said residents of his village surrounded his house and "started pelting stones". Chakraborty fled and was forced to take shelter in a house provided by the party.
"This is my home now. We are waiting for higher-ups in the party to tell us what to do," Chakraborty said. "In my entire political career, I have never seen anything like this, it is spreading like wildfire," the leader added.
According to the report, incidents of TMC workers fleeing homes and being hounded by local residents have been reported from across the state, particularly from districts like Bardhaman, Hooghly, Birbhum, Malda and Murshidabad.
The report states that the practice of "cut money", dating back to the years when the Left government was in power in Bengal, has been institutionalised, and rates are decided according to schemes. An increase in collections over the past couple of years, the report states, has widened the fault lines.
"Do you think my husband keeps the money? Everyone knows how it works, there are higher-ups in the party to be paid. This system has been going on for years. But no one is knocking on the doors of the big leaders who are part of the system," Champa Kha, wife of TMC leader Gadadhar Kha, told the newspaper. Kha fled his village in Mangalkot area along with his two sons last week.
"The villagers came four days ago and demanded money. They ransacked the house and threw stones at us. After my husband and two sons left, there's just me and my 85-year-old mother-in-law... We cannot even go to the market. When we step out, people shout at us and ask for their money," Champa added.
TMC leader and minister in the state government, Swapan Debnath, claimed that local workers were being harassed by "people who are backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)".
Debnath's claim finds echo in Bardhaman town, where Ananta Paul, the husband of former TMC councillor Pompa, said he was beaten up by "some supporters of BJP".
"They started asking about the money spent in beautification projects and the hearse I had bought, which is used in the locality. I used money from my own pocket to buy an old car and turn it into a hearse," Paul said, adding that "residents backed by BJP" have started "questioning councillors and local leaders about every project now".
The report states that posters with names of panchayat members have been pasted in Murshidabad and Malda while the word 'chor' (thief) has been scrawled outside houses of councillors.
"They took Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000 each from 180 people in the area, promising them houses under Banglar Bari. Some people got the money to build houses but many didn’t get anything," Chandana Majhi, one of the residents who went to Chakraborty's house, said.
"For toilets under Nirmal Bangla, people paid Rs 500 but did not get any money for the toilet. When the Chief Minister asked them to return the money, we went to his (Chakraborty’s) house. Some pelted stones but nothing was stolen," Majhi added.
Senior police officers in the state told the newspaper that the situation is "tense" in some areas and has created a new law and order problem.
"At least 81 people have been arrested in connection with 17 cases. They are all agitators and people who have been creating a law-and-order problem in the district," Shyam Singh, Superintendent of Police (SP), Birbhum, said."I don’t think the CM realised that the problem has become so deep. In a majority of areas, people are getting back their money. This is likely to enhance her image but at the cost of her party workers," Pankaj Dutta, a former IPS officer, told the newspaper.The Great Diwali Discount!
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