The Kanhaiya Kumar doctored video embarrassed those who tried to use it to tar him. But it might come to some unintended use now. The Trinamool leadership is clinging to the idea of a “doctored video” as a lifesaver now that it finds itself the target of a sting video purportedly showing much of the top leadership accepting wads of cash.
“We live in an age where technology is often abused,” says Rajya Sabha MP and Derek O’Brien, one of the few in the Trinamool top brass who does not feature in the operation. "It is a doctored video…we’ll take legal action against the portal," huffs Mukul Roy, the party’s vice president who does feature in it.
A dozen other leaders also have starring roles from Kolkata’s mayor Sovan Chatterjee to Saugata Roy, one of the party’s most experienced MPs to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, one of the few powerful women leaders besides Mamata Banerjee herself. Didi remains personally unscathed but Chatterjee the mayor is heard saying “Mamatadir purotai aami dekhe nichhi (I will look after everything for Mamata-di”).
I am not taking it straightaway. I will tell my men, so you give it to them.
The video done by Narada News team led by ex-Tehelka journalist Mathew Samuel shows the Trinamool ministers grabbing wads of cash from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 20 lakh or telling the representative of a made-up company where to hand the money over. The clips, if they are authenticated, should prove damning.
Trinamool MP Sultan Ahmed is asked if he wants more. “If you have,” says Ahmed. “I am not taking it straightaway. I will tell my men, so you give it to them,” says Mukul Roy. “Keep the money aside. Open that drawer,” instructs Madan Mitra, the minister cooling his heels in judicial custody thanks to the Saradha scam. “If we get involved in small stuff, what will the kids do?” wonders MLA and Mamata’s right-hand man Firhad Hakim. “Go downstairs and give the money.”
Yet Trinamool is putting on a brave front. Derek O’Brien’s dismissal of the charges is intriguing. More than defending the honour of his colleagues he is questioning the motivations of those who made the video and the timing of its release.
The video was made more than two years ago but released just now as the state gets ready to go to the polls. “Dirty tricks” fumes Trinamool. The man behind the video Mathew Samuel tells The Telegraph the video was delayed because he had to put his Narada work aside and take over Tehelka as managing editor after Tarun Tejpal was arrested on a sexual harassment charge. Curiously at that time Tehelka was funded by KD Singh, himself a Trinamool MP who one assumes was unaware about Samuel’s extra-curricular video project.
Madan Mitra’s son tells the media that the videos must be doctored since his father has been behind bars for the past 15 months neatly sidestepping the fact that the videos are actually from two years ago.
If the video is proven to be authentic, Trinamool is on shaky ground when they threaten legal action. Tehelka’s sting brought down the BJP’s Bangaru Laxman and a court ruled that journalists who acted as whistleblowers could not be prosecuted even if their methods were objectionable. But Trinamool is hoping it can ride out the storm for three reasons.
One, the opposition in the state has been decimated. The Congress feels like a spent force, most of its powerful figures poached by Didi. The CPM has not recovered from its 2011 drubbing and its sorry plight is clear from the fact it seems so keen to bring on a student leader like Kanhaiya Kumar as a star campaigner to boost its sagging morale. The pre-poll Congress-CPM understanding feels more like an act of desperation from an outgunned Opposition than a show of strength. The BJP after going great guns on the Saradha scam have piped down. They seem to have realized that while they could improve their tally in Bengal, they have no hopes yet of nabbing power. And it was more worth Narendra Modi’s while to get conditional Trinamool support in the Rajya Sabha now than to go hammer and tongs after it in Bengal. Trinamool too has obliged by playing “loyal opposition” lately.
Two, there is strength in numbers. When the Tehelka scam brought down Bangaru Laxman, the BJP, while embarrassed, could pretend Laxman was one rotten apple. When the Saradha probe was heating up, Trinamool’s Madan Mitra too became a sort of sacrificial lamb hauled away to judicial custody. But now with thirteen of its leaders implicated in the video, Trinamool has to close ranks and take a united party position against it.
“The CPM, Congress and BJP have come together and resorted to dirty politics,” says Mamata defiantly. “They cannot fight us politically and are trying to malign us. The people will give them a fitting reply.” Mamata who remains personally “un-stung” by the video could have benched one MP or MLA but she cannot afford to remove a dozen of her top lieutenants. So she has no option but to brazen it out.
Three, this is business as usual. O’Brien tells the media that “the people of Bengal know better.” He is right in a way but that’s not necessarily because they trust the credibility of Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress. It’s just that people are hardly surprised anymore that politicians take money to ensure favours from businessmen. Anyone doing business or knowing someone who does business understands the game. Nor do they think, after Laxman or the UPA-era scams, that the other parties have necessarily cleaner hands. Banerjee clearly understands this. That is why she has decided to field Mitra despite him being in judicial custody for the Saradha scam.
In 2014 the Opposition had hoped that Saradha which impacted so many lower income people, Trinamool’s own base, would burn the party badly. But that did not happen and it has given Mamata hope. If Trinamool could survive the enormous Saradha scam, a sting video of a few lakhs is small change. Or at least that’s what Trinamool is gambling on.
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