Kolkata, April 9: Simply defined, 'syndicate' means a group of individuals combining to promote a common interest; but in West Bengal, 'syndicate' not only dominates the economic aspect but is becoming a major political issue in the poll-bound state.
Enjoying political patronage, these cartels of muscle-flexing youth, are said to force promoters and contractors to buy construction materials often of inferior quality at high prices. It's not just the brick or cement, even in hiring a legal expert for procedural formalities or a priest for performing the "bhumi pujan", the syndicates have the final word.
From the city's neighbouring Bidhannagar to the industrial belt of Asansol, these syndicates have been mushrooming wide and across and even the Calcutta High Court expressed its concern over the "syndicate raj", pointing out that it has not spared even the judiciary.
While the allegations of political patronage for syndicates are mostly directed at the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front has also faced similar accusations towards the end of its 34-year-long tenure.
In fact, in the early years of the last decade, when then state housing minister Gautam Deb announced plans to acquire large tracts of land in the city's north eastern fringes to set up the sprawling Newtown-Rajarhat township, it was decided that the land losers would form co-operatives for supplying building materials to the new land owners.
Gradually, these co-operatives became powerful as muscle and money added to their growing influence in the localities. Such is their clout now, that even local problems like landlord-tenant disputes or quarrels regarding road tap water queues are handled by syndicate heads.
The Trinamool has landed into a mess following party MLA Sabyasachi Dutta's candid admission of the "flourishing syndicate raj".
Already reeling under the Narada issue - a sting operation by a portal showing several of key Trinamool leaders taking bribe -- and the recent flyover collapse that killed 26 people, the Trinamool is now at the receiving end of the opposition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a rally, said the TMC stands for "Terror", "Maut" (death) and "Corruption".
Two days after Dutta was caught in a sting in which he admitted how the "Rs.50 lakh to Rs.60 lakh required to fight the polls comes mostly from the syndicates", Modi while campaigning in the state, tore into the Trinamool, saying "maut (death) and money have replaced the (TMC) slogan of "Maa Maati Manush (mother, land, people)".
While the opposition - the CPI-M-led Left Front, the Congress and the BJP have been raising the syndicate issue time and again, Modi's raising the issue has set the political temperatures soaring.
It's not just in the poll season. The syndicates have been in the news for a long time with their highly lucrative business often alleged to be the major cause of factional feuds within the Trinamool.
With Bidhannagar and New Town being the hotbed of these syndicates, clashes allegedly between followers of Dutta and those of Bidhannagar's Trinamool MLA, Sujit Bose - have often been reported.
There have also been several shoot-outs and murders involving members of the syndicates.
In fact, during her address to party supporters at a rally in the city, Banerjee sent out a strong message - asking them to choose between syndicates and the party.
West Bengal assembly elections are being held in six phases. The first phase was on April 4, the second is due on Monday.