The ruling Left Front government in Tripura was publicly embarrassed when a television channel in state capital Agartala aired visuals of a local Marxist leader literally rolling in money, claiming that it was his long cherished dream to sleep on currency notes.
Samar Acharjee, 42, a member of the local committee of the Communist Party of India Marxists (CPM), the largest constituent of the Left Front, was caught sleeping on a bed with cash worth Rs 20 lakhs. He claimed that the money was a part of the Rs 70 lakhs he earned from government contracts. He also said that he was not a hypocrite like other leaders of the party who ‘pretend to be poor’ and that he wanted to sleep on a bed with Rs 1 crore of cash on it.
The Left Front has been in power for the past 20 years in Tripura – currently the only Marxist-ruled state in the nation. Sarkar is considered a clean and honest politician – his administration is not only credited for being able to tame the three-decade-old ethnic insurgency in the state, but also for promoting rural development. However, lately, there have been allegations of corruption in the party and the government.
In the leaked video (a copy of which is available with TEHELKA), probably shot by some associates of Samar, the communist leader, who many claimed was once a worker in a state-run jute mill, boasted about becoming one of the top contractors of the state and earning Rs 2.5 crore over the years by constructing 2400 low-cost sanitary toilets in three Agartala Municipal Council wards.
After the visuals were made public by the media, Samar said, “This is my hard-earned money. This is not black money, so why should I not show it? It is my right to do whatever I like with my money.” His wife claims to have about three lakh rupees in her bank account. Despite his wealth, Acharjee possesses an Antodaya card, which is exclusively meant for families below the poverty line (BPL).
Embarrassed by the incident, the CPM has expelled Acharjee from the party, but the episode has come as a deadly blow to the pro-poor rhetoric of Manik Sarkar and his comrades. In a press statement, the party stated that Samar Acharjee has been suspended from all party posts for his anti-communist ideology and for staining the image of the party. It also mentioned the fact that he has an Antodaya card. Nevertheless, party sources confirmed to TEHELKA that Acharjee was a confidant of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who is considered the poorest Chief Minister in India.
The Acharjee incident gives credence to the opposition parties’ claim that the ruling Left Front has issued hundreds of bogus and illegal BPL, Antodaya and MGNREGA cards to their party members who are actually well off. “This is a clear example of what we have been saying for so long. A CPM leader’s family, which possesses lakhs of rupees, has been shown as ‘poor’ in official documents, while the genuinely poor have been deprived of BPL cards, which are provided by the Union government for the upliftment of the impoverished. Today, Left Front leaders are the biggest contractors in the state. The government and the ruling party are neck deep in corruption,” said State Congress spokesperson, Dr Ashok Sinha.
While the per capita income of Tripura is approximately Rs 50,000 and the state has successfuly implemented the MGNREGA, an employment guarantee scheme, nearly 60 percent of families are below the poverty line. There have been many cases of government employees close to the Left possessing BPL cards and working as a ‘government contractor’ along with their regular jobs.
“If a BPL cardholder and lower rank CPM leader like Acharjee has so much money, one can easily imagine what the ministers and top party leaders, who pretend to be clean and idealist, have accumulated through their corrupt activities,” Dr Sinha further alleged.
“Despite his honesty, the CM has been weak in acting against corruption within his party and the bureaucracy. He has protected corrupt leaders. That is why many people have left the party on ideological grounds,” said Ajoy Biswas, former CPM MP from Tripura.
In 2012, a Rs 7.79 crore Unique Identification (UID) card scam was unearthed in the state. The opposition alleged that the state government had received Rs 50 per enrolment from the UID authority, but had paid only Rs 26 per enrolment to a Delhi-based consultant. The 13th Finance Commission had also granted Rs 6.40 crore to the state to arrange for conveyance and cash payment for BPL cardholders to ensure successful enrolment under the UID scheme, but not a single rupee reached the intended recipients.
In 2011, the Assembly was rocked by a Rs 400 crore scam involving the sale and transfer of 12,880 acres of land over many years in tea estates in north Tripura. In 2008, the then Tripura Food and Civil Supplies minister Sahid Choudhury had to quit office for his alleged links with Bangladeshi HuJI terrorist Mamun Mian, who was arrested in Agartala. However, Choudhury is now back in the state cabinet.
Responding to the allegations of corruption, a senior local committee member of CPM, on condition of anonymity, said, “So what is the harm in it? Tripura has seen the face of development and has been able to curb insurgency. Our party cadres and leaders had to pay a price to get their position in the party. Now if some of our party members are making money by taking on government contracts, what is the harm? If the Congress were in power, they would have done the same.”
Nevertheless, the Acharjee incident is a major setback for the government as it has come at a time when the CPM has been carrying out a ‘rectification drive’ to remedy the ‘moral turpitude’ and ‘bourgeois’ lifestyle of its leaders and cadres.
(With inputs from Debraj Deb in Agartala)