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What is Bengal’s ‘syndicate raj’ that Modi-Shah are raking up to attack Mamata govt

At a rally this week, Modi talked of Bengal's 'cut-money culture', and said 'syndicates are ruling the roost not just in construction sector, but also while taking places on rent or lease'.

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Kolkata: When the then Left Front government brought in ‘syndicates’ in 2006, it was an effort to address unemployment in a satellite town of Kolkata.

The government was then developing Rajarhat Newtown and the syndicates — composed of youth from families that had lost land for the project — were to supply construction material to builders.

Over time, however, the syndicates have metamorphosed into organised corruption and extortion rackets with a presence in every sphere of life in West Bengal — mainly in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

With much of their transformation coming under the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress regime, the BJP is now looking to make ‘syndicate raj’ a poll issue — much like it did ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

On Tuesday, while addressing a rally in Hooghly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dwelt on the ‘syndicates’.

“People want to invest in the state but then there is cut-money culture. Syndicates are ruling the roost,” Modi said. “And all this drives away investment. Let alone the construction sector, nowadays taking places on rent or on lease also means paying middlemen.”

Modi had raked up the ‘syndicate raj’ even in 2019 and the issue is now a recurring theme in his speeches and those made by Home Minister Amit Shah in West Bengal.

On its part, the ruling Trinamool Congress has retaliated by saying that the leaders who used to run these syndicates are now in the BJP.

“Trinamool MLAs such as Sabyasachi Dutta, who are accused of running syndicates, are now in BJP. They could explain to the PM how syndicates work,” Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.

But what really are syndicates? What is their genesis and how did they earn such notoriety? ThePrint explains.


Also read: Why Pamela Goswami & Rakesh Singh’s ‘personal’ problems are creating trouble for Bengal BJP


The early syndicate years

Under the Left Front government, small groups of young men formed local syndicates, which were registered with the respective local bodies as cooperatives.

They were to supply raw material for construction to promoters, builders and project developers at a rate higher than in the market. It was, however, confined to Rajarhat Newtown. The scheme was aimed at ensuring employment for some of the youths whose families were displaced by the land acquisition for infrastructure projects in the area.

According to a senior official of West Bengal’s housing department, in the early years, there was never any pressure on the developers to buy from only the syndicates.

“The system was confined to the Newtown Rajarhat area. There was no pressure on the developer to procure from them; it was just a request,” the officer said. “That system no longer exists.”

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborti told ThePrint that the Left government took action if syndicates broke the law or put pressure on builders.

“The syndicate system that our government had was actually in the form of a cooperative for those who lost land,” he said. “They used to fix a rate, and there was no intimidation. If there was a complaint against any cooperative, the government took harsh action. The system was introduced to help those who lost land.”

The transformation

Experts such as professor Partha Pratim Biswas, a political analyst, say that the transformation began in the 2008 panchayat elections, when the Trinamool Congress got a hold in Rajarhat Newtown area after winning in local bodies here.

Curiously, however, instead of a disruption, the TMC and CPI(M) workers began to work together, despite their intense political rivalry.

By 2011, when the Trinamool first came to power in the state, the party controlled 175 syndicates in Rajarhat Newtown while the CPI(M) had managed to hang on to 215 syndicates.

Since then, not only have the syndicates spread to other parts of the state but have a presence in all sectors of the economy from land deals, labour to even admissions in colleges.

Professor Biswas said the ‘syndicate raj’ has flourished due to the “high unemployment” in the state.

“When the syndicate system started during the Left regime for construction material supply, a part of the business was government-regulated. But after the Trinamool came to power, the system of government regulation vanished,” Biswas said. “The TMC started controlling it. Nowadays, for land dealings, for hiring labour, for getting a rented property and even getting admission in colleges, people need to bribe these local syndicates.”

According to the professor, a change in land laws helped the syndicates thrive. “The Mamata government had brought in a rule that investors need to buy a lion’s share of land from the market,” he said. “Bengal has fragmented land holding and it is here the syndicates and their extortion tactics come into play.”

The professor further said that the TMC government protected these syndicates but added that the party was right, in that those of its leaders accused of extortion are now in the BJP.

“The government indirectly patronises these syndicates and the police protect them. The ruling party has factions, so the number of syndicates have seen a manifold increase. It is a burning issue in Bengal,” Biswas said. “But the BJP has inducted all those Trinamool leaders, who are believed to be the minds behind this syndicate raj.

“Syndicates also do not have any political colour but they are encouraged by the ruling party. One can find men from all political parties co-existing in syndicates and all parties, depending on their strength in a particular area, run syndicates. It shows the collapse of governance.”


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The political barbs

With a high-profile assembly election due in the state this year, parties have been trading barbs on the issue.

“It was started by CPI(M) but the Trinamool Congress made it an industry… The Trinamool earns its party fund from syndicates,” BJP MP Arjun Singh, a former Trinamool MLA, alleged. “The money goes directly to top Trinamool leaders.”

Singh also disputed the charge that the BJP now had TMC leaders accused of extortion in its ranks. “Sabyasachi Dutta joined us two years ago. So, did ‘syndicate raj’ stop? It will never stop because it is run by top Trinamool leaders,” Singh said. “They earn crores from syndicates. Syndicates are an organised form of intimidation and extortion.”

Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh reiterated that the BJP has no moral right to talk on the issue.

“If there is a complaint of intimidation or extortion, the government takes action. In fact, a councillor of our party was arrested as there were complaints of extortion against him,” he said. “But how did BJP induct all those who were the masterminds of syndicate raj? Modiji has no moral right to talk about syndicate raj.”

Trinamool MP Sougata Roy accused the BJP of peddling a “fake narrative”. “Firstly, we did not bring in syndicates; it was the CPI(M),” he said. “We have tried to control them. We know there are critical issues related to the syndicates but the government takes action.”

Bikash Bhattacharya, CPI(M) MP in Rajya Sabha said, “There is no match between the syndicate system our government initiated and the one Trinamool Congress runs. Ours was about cooperation but the Trinamool indulges into coercion.”


Also read: ‘I was asked to condemn those chanting Jai Shri Ram’ — Trivedi lists his Trinamool troubles


 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The report is an oxymoron.
    It clearly states that the syndicates were to charge higher than the market rate for construction material. Goes without saying that the margin was the “profit” for the syndicate and would keep unemployed men happy. This was the Left Front’s idea of generating employment and compensating for loss of land.
    In that case, why would a sensible developer wish to buy material from the syndicate? Developers buy in bulk and hence always look out for the best deals. A syndicate selling material at a higher price would be a strict no no.
    What both the Left and the TMC does not acknowledge is that each and every developer just had to buy from the syndicate. If one wished to do business in Calcutta, ine had to deal with the syndicates. It was not a choice exercised freely by businesses. It was and remains the cardinal rule.
    Worse, to even get a house on rent or to get admission in a college, one has to go through syndicates. In every walk of life, one has to deal with this nuisance. There is no escaping it. It was not and is not a matter of choice. The millions earned by these syndicates ultimately make their way to the coffers of the political parties – initially the Left Front and later on the TMC.

  2. Like most of the other Leftists ideas. You will always keep on saying indirectly, “My intentions were excellent, but my ideas resulted in extreme suffering for common people.” Why don’t you use a little bit more of your brain?

  3. So the genesis really lies with the Left. TMC made it worse. The Left simply can’t come up with proper solutions…their solutions are always more disastrous than the problem itself.

Comments are closed.

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