Kolkata: There was unprecedented chaos today outside West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's house. Almost 2,000 agents of a chit fund company that's gone bust blocked the lane outside demanding they be allowed to meet her. After over four hours, some were arrested and most others were forced out of the area.
The protestors, agents of the Saradha Group, have collected crores from the public with promises of huge returns. But over the last few days, several of the group's cheques have bounced; many offices across the state have shut down and chairman Sudipto Sen is absconding.
"We are left with no option but to commit suicide," said Gouranga Bit, an agent. "I have run away from home three four days ago and have not been able to return because the investors are waiting there to beat me up," he said, urging the Chief Minister to intervene.
What has made the issue a political hot potato is Mr Sen's reported proximity to Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. A party MP Kunal Ghosh was the Group CEO of Saradha's media interests; he later clarified on Facebook that he was just a "salaried employee" and just dealt with the "editorial" department.
Agents say they never questioned Saradha's credentials because even the chief minister seemed to be giving the group her blessings. She had written a message on the front page of a Bengali newspaper, Sakalbela, which the group launched.
On March 26, Mr Sen put up a closure notice at the office of the English newspaper, Bengal Post. On April 1, several other publications were issued similar notices.
With close to a 1,000 journalists suddenly on the streets without work, Trinamool MP Mukul Roy promised to find other investors.
On Thursday, the Chief Minister announced that a manhunt was on for Mr Sen who, she added, may have fled to north India. But 24 hours after her statement, there is still no arrest and restive agents are beginning to suspect that he may be getting political shelter.