Among the politicians who are vociferously opposed to the demonetization initiative undertaken by the Central government, two stand out – Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. More than anyone else, it has been Mamata who opposed demonetization from day one, labeling it ‘draconian.’
Soon she was joined by Mr. Kejriwal who, let me remind you, came to limelight on the issue of ‘eradicating corruption’, and the other usual suspects Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sitaram Yechuri, Laloo Prasad Yadav and others of their ilk.
Only in India, it is possible that a politician like Mr. Kejriwal, who got elected on the platform of ‘cleaning up politics and the system’ and ‘eradicating all forms of corruption and black money,’ today stands shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav – who is a convicted for siphoning off millions of rupees, that too from animal fodder of all things – protesting against one of the most important initiatives launched in our memory to eradicate corruption.
But the level of hypocrisy exhibited by TMC Chief Ms. Mamata Banerjee is of a whole different level. It is unmatched, and unparalleled.
Reacting to the demonetization issue, Ms. Banerjee had recently said, ‘There are millions of real stories across cities, towns, villages about demonetisation affecting the marginalized. Here is only one example. Tea garden owners have expressed difficulty to pay wages on time. This could lead to frustration among poor workers, most of whom are tribals.’
Perhaps you find it a normal statement from her, but for me it’s nothing less than Hitler claiming that ‘the Jews stand to be persecuted if demonetization is not rolled back.’
It is because the Delhi media has not told you in detail about these tribals and tea garden workers, towards whom Mamata Banerjee is suddenly so compassionate. What Ms. Banerjee has conveniently forgotten is that the tribals and tea garden workers are already STARVING TO DEATH.
Since 2011, when the Trinmool party came to power, over 500 people have starved to death in the tea gardens of Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars. In Red Bank alone, close to 175 people have starved to death till date. Yet, speaking at a TMC rally prior to the recent assembly elections on April 2014, Ms. Banerjee claimed, “there have been no starvation deaths and no one has died of starvation in the tea belts of North Bengal.”
Ignorance is one thing, but willful ignorance and outright denial of facts, especially when one is occupying the chair of a Chief Minister, is criminal and nothing less.
None in the media reported this, but only five days ago, three tea garden workers died due to starvation related malnutrition in the shut tea gardens owned by Duncans. A day before that, a 19 year old girl had died in the shut down Manabari tea garden, as her family could not afford to take her to the doctor.
Even as I write this, there are, thousands of children who have gone off to sleep on an empty stomach, hundreds of mothers who are dying of starvation, and hundreds of fathers who are suffering from acute malnutrition in the tea gardens of Darjeeling, Terai and Dooars.
Why was Ms. Banerjee silent about their plight till now? And now she’s planning to blame it all on demonetisation?
Ms. Banerjee says, she is concerned about the ‘poor,’ well let me ask her this – what have you done till date, to help eradicate miseries of these people?
Three major tea garden in Darjeeling hills – Dhootrey, Kallej Valley and Peshok are owned by Trinmool Congress Rajya Sabha MP KD Singh. Since mid-2015 his company, the Alchemist Group haven’t paid the workers proper wages, bonuses or ration. Numerous representations have been sent to Ms. Banerjee, including a very high profile visit by GNLF leaders prior to the Bengal assembly elections.
After GNLF announced their support to TMC, Ms. Banerjee had said the issue would be resolved within 15 days. It’s been close to 7 months, and TMC hasn’t done anything to resolve the issue. People in these gardens have continued to suffer, they didn’t get their Dushera or Diwali bonus, neither have they received proper wages. If Ms. Banerjee actually cared, wouldn’t she have taken the Member of Parliament, whom she nominated, to task a year ago itself and made him pay the workers dues?
If she does care for the poor, what’s stopping her from helping the hundreds of thousands of ‘poor’ tea garden workers, who are suffering due to the indifference by her own government?
Moreover, TMC’s close links to numerous ‘chit fund’ companies, which has drained lives savings from millions of poor people is very well known. In our region too, companies like Sharada, Rose Valley, Basil etc. operated freely under the guise of Govt of WB Sanctioned Entity. They literally looted millions of people, and yet the self-nominated ‘champions of poor’ Mamata has not shown any mamata towards them. Why so?
In our hills, these victims of ‘chit fund’ companies have organized themselves under the banner of ‘Chit Fund Pidit Janta’ and have continued to send multiple reminders to her office, requesting her to help return their lives savings, yet she has conveniently chosen to ignore them.
So when Mamata uses the shoulders of these very people to train her guns at the center, she stands exposed.
Politics in the name of religion and the ‘poor’ has left millions of our countrymen suffering for decades, and in brazenly asking for the central government to roll back demonetization initiative – citing inconvenience to the poor, Mamata reeks of hypocrisy at best, and criminal at worst.
(Upendra M Pradhan writes the column Voice of Darjeeling for www.darjeelingtimes.com and is editor at large at The Darjeeling Chronicle. Pics courtesy: Pallawib Singcok and Vikki Thapa/ The Darjeeling Chronicle)