Bengal’s fake vaccination drive has its roots in politics of patronage

Initial probe into Koltaka’s fake COVID vaccination camp reveals the mastermind used his alleged political cloud to hoodwink public; a similar modus operandi has been adopted by kingpins of past scams

India began the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive in January this year | File Photo

The alleged link of some Trinamool Congress top brass with a fraudster who had organised fake vaccination camps in Kolkata recently, impersonating an IAS officer, has once again brought the politics of patronage in the state under scanner.

The accused, identified as 28-year-old Debanjan Deb, arrested last week following a complaint from a TMC MP, conducted fake free vaccination camps in at least two prominent Kolkata localities wherein about 1,000 people were administered jabs apparently of Amikacin, an anti-bacterial drug, guised as Covishield and Covaxin.

Also read: Suvendu’s clout in Bengal mirrors BJP’s N-E model of grafted growth

Investigation by police so has far revealed that Deb organised those camps posing as a joint commissioner of Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

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He embellished the venues with flexes and banners containing the civic body’s emblem and logo and also decorated them with balloons of white and blue colours, the shades associated with the ruling TMC to “avoid any scrutiny.”

That the civic authorities as well as the local police did not suspect anything amiss in the camps being run for at least 12 days raised several eyebrows. The questions have been raised more so as these camps were organised at a KMC-run market in Kasba and a government-aided college at Amherst Street. The camp at Kasba was barely 150 metres from the office of the KMC ward coordinator and around 1.5 km from the local police station.

Deb, whose father retired as a senior excise officer, moved around with impunity in a Toyota Innova SUV fitted with all paraphernalia representing the government such as a blue beacon light, flag, logos and stickers. He also had private security guards.

He was so confident about his canker design that he had even invited TMC MP Mimi Chakraborty to take a jab at one of his camps to encourage others to participate in the “vaccination drive.”

The unsuspecting MP obliged and took the “vaccine.” She raised the alarm and informed the police only after she did not receive the customary SMS that is sent to a vaccine recipient after inoculation.

The police investigation so far revealed that using philanthropy as a front, the accused resorted to forgery, bribes and also ran a fake job racket.

Among others, the serial offender allegedly duped KMC contractors and private firms of around ₹1 crore promising them lucrative contracts in lieu of cash. He even operated bank accounts in the name of the KMC and the West Bengal Financial Corporation.

Police suspect that some influential people within the two entities might have helped him in opening the accounts with forged documents.

Even the role of banks was under suspicion as the police further investigated how those fake documents got verified, sources privy to the investigation said.

To earn credibility, Deb used to flaunt his alleged closeness with top TMC leaders, posting on social media his photographs with them clicked in various programmes, including government functions.

He shared on his twitter handles his photographs with senior cabinet ministers and TMC leaders such as Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim among others.

Police sources said Deb had come in contact with some TMC leaders and government officials when he worked with the information and cultural affairs department in event management between 2014 and 2017.

Deb and his associates were obviously exploiting those links to run their racket that was spread beyond the fake vaccine camps, alleged opposition parties.

Pointing out that fake vaccination camps had been promoted through “trademark blue and white balloons characteristic of the TMC government event” and that the accused was present at a government’s “Duare Sarkar camps,” BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari demanded a CBI inquiry into the scam.

The Congress on the other hand demanded a judicial probe into the incident while holding a joint demonstration with the Left Front in front of the Kasba police station on Sunday (June 27).

Earlier, masterminds of chit-fund scams in the state such as Sudipta Sen of Saradha group and Gautam Kundu of Rose Valley had also applied a similar modus operandi of showcasing their alleged closeness with the ruling-party leaders to earn the benefits of being close to the power that be.

Also read: Mukul Roy is back in Trinamool, party says more leaders on the way

“Bengal has a long history of political patronage. People close to the ruling dispensation often get away with their misdemeanour until something goes horribly wrong,” said political commentator and author Subir Bhaumik. He said the political patronage is however not limited to illegality alone.

Even to get benefits of the government welfare schemes, particularly in rural areas, one needs to be seen as at least as a ruling party sympathiser.

“I have not been allotted jobs under the MGNREGA scheme and also have been deprived of other social welfare schemes of the state government,” said a booth-level BJP worker from Gosaba assembly constituency in South 24 Parganas district.

This explains the recent rush by BJP functionaries to join the TMC across the state after the latter came to the power for a third time in a row.

To get a TMC accommodation, the BJP workers have been seen willingly tonsuring heads, undergoing ‘purification’ and even “purging sins” by sprinkling Ganga water on themselves.

Several BJP workers even staged a dharna outside the TMC office in Birbhum earlier this month seeking to join the ruling party.

The desperation is obvious.

 

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