Bongzi Scheme

Bongzi Scheme

Bengal’s cheat-fund-gone-wrong is another reminder of the predatory nature of humans

“How is the cheetah today?” asked Akash Bangla of its north Bengal correspondent,taking time out from Kolkata’s ‘Bongzi’ story. A cheetah which terrorised the Jogesh Chandra Tea Estate for a month had been captured and was shown on camera,a gentle reminder that while West Bengal’s most efficient predators are humans,the same as elsewhere,they get healthy competition from the wildlife,on account of the state’s diversity of habitats.

Tired of Delhi’s coverage of the Bongzi scheme,I had turned to the local channels. The capital only offered a stupid blame game — who let it happen,Didi or the Left? Does it matter? Ponzis are milked for cash by every political organisation,maybe even the snake charmers’ union. And one does tire of square,solid,nutritious harangues about how the scam in Bengal exposes the weaknesses of regulation,the laxness of oversight and the flaccidity of government. Why,doesn’t TV remember that it has a social and educational function? A decade ago,India escaped an HIV/AIDS crisis partly thanks to media advocacy. Can’t it now educate the lower middle class,which it reaches very efficiently,on the folly of spurning banks and falling for Bongzis? Talking of amnesia,the Times Now ticker suggested that the scam was unprecedented,not recalling Sanchayita Investments,a pyramid scheme which was axed by the government 33 years ago. The Sanchayita case continues and Kolkata courts are still paying back over a lakh small investors who were duped.

Since Delhi was confused,I turned to Kolkata. Channel 10,which one used to follow on account of its proximity to Mamata Banerjee’s government,is now a silent,blank screen. It was one of the media properties promoted by the Saradha group which fell like a house of cards on the Bengali new year’s day. Doordashan was a dead loss. At the very moment that Sudipta Sen,the CMD of the failed scheme,was being interrogated,when his colleague Debjani Mukherjee was apparently in the process of breaking down,DD Bangla was showing reruns of the Dover Lane Music Conference. A fine event,but there’s a time for everything.

But Akash Bangla and ABP Ananda were mixing it gleefully. Kolkata’s media must be having a ball. There had been much heartburn about Saradha staking out media turf and launching publications and channels for governmental propaganda — though now,in his lengthy suicide-note-cum-premature-dying-declaration to the CBI (thoughtfully put online by Network 18),Sudipta Sen says that he was forced into the media business and then “stabbed from the backside” by political interests.


While the government claims to have been in the dark until media houses downed shutters over the new year,ABP Ananda ran reports of a state bankers’ association which had warned in October that formal banking was losing custom to the false promises of non-banking finance companies. The controversial policeman Nazrul Islam had also warned that such companies were launching media outlets which could suddenly shut down. Both channels poked fun at Mamata Banerjee’s exhortation to smoke in order to support a new tobacco tax and generate funds to pay back duped investors. And Akash Bangla ran pictures of a police station in Malda district whose signage is actually advertising for a chit fund.

And then it was back to the wild. This time it was: “How is the baby elephant?” One had fallen into a tank in Bankura district,its companions had killed a gawking villager and wildlife officials were planning to tranquillise the whole herd and save the baby. A fast-breaking story as captivating as the tale of the Bongzi gone wrong,but presumably with a happy ending.