Monday, 30th October 2017

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Sorry on lips, army of syndicates draws up stop-voter plan

Deployment of "forces" will determine how freely Salt Lake votes on Monday. No, not the central forces sent by the Election Commission but the Trinamul army that keeps the syndicate machinery rolling and moonlights as the vote mafia during elections.

By Tamaghna Banerjee and Snehal Sengupta
  • Published 23.04.16
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A note of thanks from syndicates for Sabyasachi Dutta, the Rajarhat- New Town MLA

Deployment of "forces" will determine how freely Salt Lake votes on Monday. No, not the central forces sent by the Election Commission but the Trinamul army that keeps the syndicate machinery rolling and moonlights as the vote mafia during elections.

Metro spoke to at least six syndicate leaders and scores of foot soldiers in Salt Lake, New Town and Rajarhat, all of whom indicated that the scale of deployment for Monday's election would be "larger" than during the municipal poll last year.

Most of the outsiders lined up for "poll duty" in Salt Lake are said to be new faces, a change in deployment pattern to avoid exposing those identified with the violence on the day of the municipal poll in October.

While the syndicate leaders get ready to unleash their new-look army, Trinamul activists have been going door to door in Salt Lake, seeking pardon from voters for the October 3 violence in which even the elderly and women weren't spared.

" Kshama korey din (Pardon us)," they plead. "Whatever happened that day, Dada had no role in it. Please vote for him."

Dada is, of course, Sujit Bose, the sitting MLA and Trinamul candidate for Bidhannagar. He had been photographed with an army of Trinamul cadres on October 3, abusing cops and threatening journalists recording an unlawful assembly less than 100 metres from a poll booth.

Bidhannagar goes to the polls on the same day as its adjacent constituencies Rajarhat-New Town and Rajarhat-Gopalpur, together the syndicate capital of Bengal.

Footage from a recent television sting shows Sabyasachi Dutta, the Rajarhat-New Town MLA who is seeking re-election, saying that he has 20,000 people working for him and most of them are syndicate members.

"If there is no syndicate, 20,000 people will die of starvation, the government will fall. If I tell 20,000 people that you have to starve to death, even if 2,000 goons die among them it would be a major crisis," he is seen and heard justifying in the footage. "Defeating me is not simply difficult, it's impossible," he goes on to brag.

On Friday, a banner was spotted near City Centre New Town (see picture) thanking Dutta for standing by the syndicates. When asked about the blatant advertisement of his patronage of syndicates, the sitting MLA accused the CPM of putting it up.

But voter after voter told Metro that they were determined to vote despite the obvious question: what if the goons return?

"Even if outsiders come at us the way they did last year, I would still go out and vote," said Balai Chakraborty, a 74-year-old former IAS officer. "I will vote for a safe Salt Lake."

The Election Commission's deployment plan for Monday includes around 500 CRPF personnel across the 118 Salt Lake booths. This works out to at least four personnel in each booth. Additional central forces have been requisitioned to patrol the township through the day.

Contrast this with what the unofficial Trinamul war room has planned and the mismatch is stark.

According to a syndicate operator in New Town, an army of 1,500 men, mostly from New Town, Kochpukur, Rajarhat, Beleghata and Cossipore, had been readied just for Salt Lake. Another 1,500-strong contingent would be dispatched to the 155 polling stations in the rest of Bidhannagar constituency that includes the bheri belt behind Sector V, Lake Town, Bangur, Kalindi and Dakshindari.

The syndicate leader said the difference between October and April would be the manner in which these foot soldiers had been trained to do the job for Trinamul.

"They will do so without resorting to violence. Salt Lake is our focus. After what happened in the last election, the leadership is worried and so this time we have trained our boys to accomplish the task without assaulting the residents. They have been told to set up pickets in the alleys in large numbers. That should be enough to keep the residents home," said the Rajarhat-based syndicate leader.

Another syndicate strongman entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring victory for candidate Dutta, who is also the mayor of Salt Lake, said party cadres from Murshidabad, Bankura, Birbhum and other places had started arriving in Rajarhat on Friday night.

Arrangements have apparently been made to house them in under-construction buildings, clubs and households in the rural areas of Rajarhat. "They are all meant to be deployed on the day of the election. But this group is so unruly that even we find it difficult to keep them calm," the syndicate leader said.

Salt Lake's determination to fight the threat of a rerun of October 3 found an echo in New Town, where residents of apartment buildings that have come up over the past few years are forced to make peace with syndicate goons.

Metro had highlighted on April 8 how almost every apartment owner has had to pay at least Rs 300 a square foot more for his or her property because of builders passing on the syndicate extortion burden.

Moving into a new apartment adds to this cost in terms of hiring workmen for interior design and sundry other jobs at syndicate prices.

"Whatever happens, I will vote. These syndicate goons stand no chance if we the voters are united and cast our votes responsibly," said a 27-year-old software developer living in Greenwood Park, near Nazrul Tirtha in New Town.

"We cannot afford to remain indoors for fear of goons. We discussed in a block meeting last month that in case there is violence, we will all come out together and walk to the polling station. Let's see what the goons can do," added a resident of AA Block of Salt Lake.