West Bengal

Trinamool leaders face corruption probe

Print edition : May 12, 2017

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with MPs Saugata Roy (right) and Sudip Bandopadhyay (left). A file picture. Photo: PTI

THE Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) set the ball rolling in the Narada sting case on April 17 when it registered a first information report (FIR) against 13 persons, including 12 top Trinamool Congress leaders who were caught accepting cash on camera in the operation carried out by the news portal Narada News and made public in 2016.

Among them are some of the biggest names in the party, including MPs Saugata Roy, Sultan Ahmed, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee and Aparupa Poddar; Cabinet Ministers Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Suvendu Adhikari and Sovan Chatterjee (who is also the Mayor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation); MLA Iqbal Ahmed; and former Minister Madan Mitra. An Indian Police Service officer, Syed Hussain Meerza, is also among the accused. Meerza, the then Superintendent of Police of Bardhaman district, was shown in a video clip accepting cash on behalf of Trinamool heavyweight Mukul Roy.

The sting was carried out just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and was made public in 2016, days ahead of the Assembly elections.

On March 17 this year, exactly a month before the FIR was lodged, a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court directed the CBI to conduct a preliminary enquiry into the case. “CBI conducted the Preliminary Enquiry into the said allegations expeditiously. Enquiry revealed prima facie material for registration of a Regular Case (FIR) under appropriate sections of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and IPC,” said the CBI in its official statement. The charges were framed under Sections 7 and 13(2) read with 13(1)(a) & (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; and Section 120(B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), dealing with criminal conspiracy.

Though Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee called the FIRs a “political game”, sources in the Trinamool admitted that the situation was “worrying” for the party. In January, the party received a severe blow to its image when Trinamool MPs Sudip Bandopadhyay, who is a close aide of Mamata Banerjee, and Tapas Paul were arrested in connection with the Rs.17,000-crore Rose Valley Deposit Collection scam. From the time the multi-crore Saradha (deposit collection) scam broke in the State in 2013, for which several top Trinamool leaders, including two Rajya Sabha members and a senior Cabinet Minister, were put behind bars, the Trinamool Congress has been reeling under repeated charges of corruption at the top level.

After the latest setback, the leadership is putting a brave front on it. Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari (himself an accused in the case), said: “This is not a case of corruption, but of conspiracy. It was a plot hatched just before the Assembly elections [2016] to overthrow the Trinamool government, but in spite of this we still won by margins of 30,000 to 80,000 votes.” However, there is concern among the party’s rank and file.

One party worker told Frontline: “If once more our top leaders are put in prison one after another, it will get increasingly difficult for us to reach out to the people and convince them during the time of elections. Such things are hard to live down and can negate all the good work the party has done for the people over the years.”

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay