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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Explained: The West Bengal elections, and the shadow of the Syndicate

Realising the widespread anger against the Syndicates, the Trinamool since 2019 has been trying to distance itself from the most notorious of the group leaders.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: March 22, 2021 2:42:25 pm
Flags of various political parties being sold at Kolkata BaraBazar before the elections (Express Photo/Shashi Ghosh)

One of the main ways the BJP is attacking the Mamata Banerjee government, from the very first day of the Assembly election campaign, is saying that if it comes to power, it will build a “Sonar Bangla”, ending “Syndicate Raj” and “Cut Money” culture. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to junior BJP leaders, all have raised the issue.

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The origins

Syndicates first came into existence under the Left government around early 2000, in the Salt Lake and Rajarhat-New Town areas where the IT and other service industries had just started setting up operations, bringing in their wake hectic construction activity for offices, houses. At the time, the Opposition, including the Trinamool, accused popular minister and Bidhannagar MLA Subhash Chakraborty of providing the patronage for these groups to flourish.

The members of Syndicates were mostly unemployed local youths who would control the supply of building materials and divide the profit within the “Syndicate”, and earn quick, easy money in the process. While the Opposition said it was an organised illegal extortion racket, the CPM said it was “samyabaad (socialism)” at the micro level, ensuring that profits were shared rather than channelled to a few.

The evolution

Slowly, as the powers of the “Syndicates” grew, industrialists, builders and even common people started complaining of being forced to buy from only particular vendors, even if the materials were of inferior quality, and at high prices. Local ruling party leaders soon emerged as Syndicate heads, in what was an open secret, ensuring that the administration and police kept away.

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When the Trinamool came to power in 2011, many thought Mamata would act against the “Syndicate Raj” as she had promised. However, the powers of the Syndicates only expanded. With industrialisation stuck and jobs hard to come by, the Syndicates now started targeting every sphere and district. A senior Trinamool leader admitted, “To stop agitation by unemployed youth, it became a compulsion to us to let the Syndicate Raj continue this in every sphere.”

The turning point

In the 2016 Assembly elections, the Syndicates for the first time got involved in the political process, helping the Trinamool. In the 2018 panchayat polls, they were seen in the forefront of the violence and threats that prohibited opposition from submitting nomination papers, ensuring the Trinamool won 35% of the seats uncontested.

With the 2019 Lok Sabha election results showing the BJP had gained ground in the state, the Opposition launched full front attack on Syndicate Raj. They accused the groups of now even controlling college admissions, led by the Trinamool student organisation, forcing students to pay up. Even small businessmen were not being spared, they said. Several Tollywood actors who joined the BJP, like Locket Chatterjee, said an influential Trinamool minister had made a Syndicate even in the Bengali film industry, controlling who got work.

Realising the widespread anger against the Syndicates, the Trinamool since 2019 has been trying to distance itself from the most notorious of the group leaders.

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