Mamata Banerjee stayed put at the CBI office while protests erupted across the city with TMC supporters alleging political vendetta.
Four political heavyweights, including two ministers of the ruling Trinamool Congress government and a party MLA, were on Monday arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) in the Narada sting operation case and were granted interim bail in the evening.
Senior Ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, TMC MLA Madan Mitra and former Minister and former Kolkata Municipal Corporation mayor who recently quit the Bharatiya Janata Party, Sovan Chatterjee, were all picked up from their residences in the early hours of the day and brought to the CBI headquarters at Nizam Palace in south Kolkata.
The four of them were produced before a virtual city court, where the counsels representing the CBI sought a 14-day judicial custody. The lawyers representing the arrested members said there was no need for custody for any of the accused since the chargesheet has been filed. The defence counsels also said such custodial interrogation is not required in the time of a pandemic. The central investigating agency may also appeal before the higher courts opposing the bail.
The Narada tapes, which were allegedly shot sometime in 2014, were made public in 2016, months before the State went to Assembly Polls. The purported videos showed about a dozen TMC leaders, MPs and Ministers accepting cash on camera from an operator of a fictitious company. In March 2017, the Calcutta High Court directed CBI to probe the tapes and the agency filed an FIR against 13 persons in April, 2017, including the four persons arrested today.
“The 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,” a press statement issued by the CBI said. The CBI also added that all the four arrested were ministers in the State government and sanction was received from competent authorities to prosecute them on May 7, 2021.
The CBI also filed a chargesheet before a city court under Section 120 of the Indian Penal Code and different sections of the Prevention of Corruption, Act 1988. Five accused were named in the chargesheet which included four leaders arrested today and former police officer S.M.H. Mirza who was arrested by the CBI in September 2019 and is now out on bail.
Mamata rushes to CBI office
The arrests triggered dramatic developments and protests across the city, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rushing to the CBI office at Nizam Palace. Ms. Banerjee was at the CBI office for almost six hours. Some of the lawyers representing those arrested said Ms. Banerjee dared the CBI authorities to take her into custody.
The Trinamool Congress described the arrests as “political vendetta” and questioned why BJP leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy, who were both named in the FIR, had not yet been arrested. Mathew Samuel, who carried out the sting on behalf of the portal Narada News, also asked why Mr. Adhikari, now a BJP MLA and leader of the Opposition, had not been quizzed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Trinamool Congress supporters gathered outside the CBI office. Violence erupted with the TMC supporters throwing stones and bottles at the central forces who resorted to baton charge. The scuffle between the supporters of TMC and security personnel continued for hours. The Trinamool Congress supporters remained at Nizam Palace till late in the evening and left only after the news of the TMC leaders granted bail reached them. Protests erupted in other parts of the city where TMC supporters burnt tyres on the road even as the city remained under a strict lockdown.
Trinamool Congress supporters also staged a demonstration outside Raj Bhawan. Governor Jaideep Dhankhar, through a series of tweets, said there was “lawlessness” and pointed out to the Chief Minister the “repercussions of such lawlessness and failure of constitutional mechanism.”
“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,” Mr Dhankhar tweeted.