CBI arrests three top Trinamool Congress leaders, including two Ministers, in Narada sting case, Mamata challenges CBI to arrest her as well

Published : May 17, 2021 22:24 IST

Outside the CBI office in Kolkata, paramilitary personnel stand guard as Trinamool Congress supporters shout slogans against the arrest of four Trinamool leaders in the Narada sting case, on May 17. Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

In a major development, three top Trinamool Congress leaders, including two heavyweight Ministers and a former Trinamool leader and Minister, were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Narada sting case, in which several top Trinamool leaders were seen accepting cash on camera. On the morning of May 17, the CBI, accompanied by a large number of Central forces personnel, arrested Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, both Cabinet Ministers; Madan Mitra, a senior party leader and MLA; and Sovan Chatterjee, a former Trinamool leader, from their homes. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the CBI office and alleged that the arrests were illegal and demanded that she too be arrested. The Chief Minister stayed put in the CBI office for more than six hours. The same evening all four, who had been charge-sheeted in the case, were released on bail by a Kolkata court.

In a press statement the CBI said, “The Central Bureau of Investigation has today arrested four accused persons who were the then Ministers in Government of West Bengal in a case related to Narada Sting Operation…. Main allegation in the case was that the said accused as public servants demanded and accepted illegal-gratification to show favour to a private person who was posing as a representative of a fictitious company at the time of transaction and discreetly recording the same. After investigation, CBI report was sent to different competent authorities to grant sanction to prosecute the accused. Sanction was received from the Competent Authority on 07.05.2021 in respect of the said accused. Sanction for one more accused, the then SP has also been received. Presently, he is on bail.”

The video of the sting operation carried out by the news portal Narada News, showing top Trinamool leaders, Ministers, MPs and MLAs accepting cash from an operator of a fictitious company, was released to the media on April 16, 2016. The sting, which was carried out in 2014, showed influential Cabinet Ministers Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra (no longer a Minister); MPs and party heavyweights Mukul Roy, Suvendu Adhikari (who are now with the Bharatiya Janata Party), Sultan Ahmed (who passed away in 2017), Saugata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and Prasun Banerjee; former Trinamool Minister and Mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee; and MLA Iqbal Ahmed, all receiving wads of currency notes from the sting operative in exchange for promises of “lobbying”. In March 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered the CBI to begin a preliminary enquiry on the Narada case.

On May 7 this year, just five days after the Trinamool won a sensational victory over the BJP in the Assembly election and returned to power for the third consecutive term, the CBI was given sanction by Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to prosecute Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee. Conspicuous by their absence in the CBI’s list were Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy, leading to allegations in political sections that the CBI’s arrests were politically motivated and under the directions of the Central BJP leaders. While Suvendu, who was then a Trinamool Lok Sabha MP, was shown accepting cash, Mukul Roy was seen giving directions to the sting operator to hand over the money to his close aide, IPS officer S.M.H. MIrza, who was then the Superintendent of Police in Bardhaman district. Even Mathew Samuel, the main architect of the sting operation expressed his disappointment at Suvendu not getting arrested. He said: “There is only one sad thing – I had gone and given money to Suvendu Adhikari in his office. But his name is not in the list…. I got to know that Suvendu Adhikari also had admitted that he got the money from me. What I am saying is that the investigation should be fair. This is only the tip of the iceberg.”

The Trinamool described the arrests as a sign of “political vindictiveness” on the part of the BJP after its humiliating loss in the Assembly election. Many have questioned the timing of the arrest, particularly since the State is reeling from a raging COVID-19 pandemic. The arrests led to violent protests by Trinamool activists across the State, and the area outside the CBI office on AJC Bose Road, one of the busiest arterial roads of Kolkata, resembled a war zone as hundreds of enraged Trinamool activists began hurling bricks and glass bottles at the Central forces standing guard inside the office gates. Trinamool supporters, disregarding the near-complete lockdown ordered by the government, assembled in large numbers, not bothering about wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar posted on social media: “Message @MamataOfficial “Total lawlessness & anarchy. Police and administration in silence mode. Hope you realize repercussions of such lawlessness and failure of constitutional mechanism. Time to reflect and contain this explosive situation that is worsening minute by minute.”

Even as crowding and protests took place across the State, the COVID situation continued to remain grim. Though the number of new cases came down for the third consecutive day and stood at 19,003, the number of deaths in a single day continued to remain high. On May 17, 147 persons died and the total number of active cases stood at 1,31,315.

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