Kolkata: Two of Mamata Banerjee’s ministers and two other leaders were granted bail today after nearly seven hours of drama and confrontation as the Bengal Chief Minister spent much of the day at the CBI office in Kolkata challenging their arrests.
Bengal Ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee were arrested early this morning in the Narada bribery case. So were Trinamool MLA Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee, who went from the Trinamool to the BJP but quit that party too.
Central forces arrived at their homes and took them to the CBI office. Within an hour, a furious Mamata Banerjee also landed at the CBI office in Nizam Palace and dared the investigating agency to arrest her too.
“The way they have been arrested without due procedure, CBI will have to arrest me also,” the Bengal Chief Minister reportedly said during her extraordinary stake-out at the CBI lasting more than six hours.
All four were ministers in the previous Mamata Banerjee government and were seen taking bribes in the Narada bribery tapes shot in 2014.
But the Trinamool questioned why Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy, former Trinamool leaders who were also on the Narada tapes, have escaped action till now.
Both were Trinamool MPs at the time but have since joined the BJP and recently became BJP MLAs.
Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly held them up as examples of the “BJP washing machine effect”, a term she uses while accusing defectors of joining the BJP to escape prosecution.
Last December, a day after Suvendu Adhikari joined the BJP triggering a mass exodus from the Trinamool, his photos disappeared from the Narada tapes floating around on social media.
The Trinamool Congress has also once again accused Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar of playing a partisan role, saying he is not authorized to sanction the arrest of the three Trinamool MLAs; the assembly Speaker is. But Mr Dhankhar said he had the right to clear their prosecution as he had sworn them in as ministers when the crime was committed.
“The governor is doing whatever he pleases against the Trinamool,” said Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee, using terms like “bloodsucker”.
Mathew Samuel, the journalist who carried out the Narada sting, said he was happy at today’s developments but surprised that some were left out.
“I had gone and given the money to Suvendu Adhikari in his office. His name is not on the list. What happened? A forensic was conducted and it was proven…the CBI took a statement from me too. I even got to know that Suvendu Adhikari admitted he received the money from me,” Mr Samuel said.
All the arrested leaders are accused of accepting Rs 4 to 5 lakh as bribe in a sting operation by the Narada news portal, which was released in 2016.
Mr Samuel posed as a businessman planning to invest in Bengal, gave wads of cash to seven Trinamool MPs, four ministers, one MLA and a police officer as bribe and taped the entire operation.
Sultan Ahmed, another accused MP, has died. The CBI had also asked for permission to prosecute Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee and Aparupa Poddar. The Lok Sabha Speaker has not granted sanction for any of them.
The Trinamool and other parties have questioned the timing of the arrests at the height of Bengal’s Covid surge and right after Mamata Banerjee’s landslide victory in polls that turned into a fierce prestige fight between her and the BJP.
A huge crowd of Trinamool workers protested outside the CBI building and tried to break barricades. They also threw stones at paramilitary personnel, who used batons to try and remove them.
Governor Dhankhar alleged “total lawlessness and anarchy” and warned of “repercussions”.
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.”
— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) May 17, 2021
Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee, appealed for calm. “I urge everyone to abide by the law and refrain from any activity that violates lockdown norms for the sake of the larger interest of Bengal and its people. We have utmost faith in the judiciary and the battle will be fought legally,” he tweeted.