West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (File image)
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), on May 17, arrested three Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders, including two recently-inducted ministers in the Mamata Banerjee government, a legislator and a former TMC leader, in connection with the 2016 Narada sting operation case.
Those arrested include ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee.
All four leaders were ministers in the-then Mamata Banerjee government when the Narada tapes were shot in 2014. Last week, Hakim and Mukherjee were sworn in as members of the new Mamata Banerjee cabinet after she won a third straight term.
Chatterjee, who quit the TMC to join the BJP in the run-up to the recently concluded West Bengal Assembly polls, parted ways with the BJP after the declaration of the candidates' list.
Mamata Banerjee arrives at CBI office after arrest of West Bengal ministers, MLA in Narada case
Here is everything you need to know about the Narada sting operation case :
The Narada sting operation
The case pertains to the ‘Narada tapes’ sting operation shot in 2014 by Narada news portal, purportedly showing TMC leaders accepting bribes on camera. The sting was conducted over a period of two years and was supposed to be published in Tehelka magazine. Journalist Matthew Samuel, who later quit Tehelka, and launched his own TV channel in West Bengal posed as a businessman planning to invest in West Bengal, offered cash to twelve TMC leaders including seven MPs, four ministers and one MLA and a police officer as bribe and taped the operation.
READ: Mamata Banerjee arrives at CBI office after arrest of West Bengal ministers, MLA in Narada case
The TMC ministers and leaders who were allegedly seen taking bribes on camera from the businessman included Mukul Roy (now with BJP), Subrata Mukherjee, Sultan Ahmed (passed away in 2017), Sugata Roy, Suvendu Adhikari (with BJP now), Kakoli Ghosh Dastikar, Prasoon Banerjee, Suvon Chatterjee, Madan Mitra, Iqbal Ahmed and Firhad Hakim. Senior police officer MH Ahmed Mirza, who claimed to be the key person who raised funds for the party, was also seen accepting money.
Narada scam: West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar sanctions CBI prosecution of top TMC leaders
Many switched sides
Of the 12 accused TMC leaders, Mukul Roy - then a Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP - and Suvendu Adhikari - then a Lok Sabha MP - have since joined the BJP. The prosecution of BJP MLA from Nandigram, Suvendu Adhikari, has not been sanctioned yet by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, according to a report in NDTV.
There has not been any action against Mukul Roy, now a BJP MLA, either. Sultan Ahmed, another TMC MP, died in 2017. The CBI has, however, asked for permission to prosecute Suvendu Adhikari, Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee and Aparupa Poddar. But, Birla has not granted sanction yet.
CBI and the ED probe
Despite criticism, TMC secured a win in 2016 assembly polls and Mamata Banerjee returned to power for the second time. But, on March 17, 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered a preliminary probe to be conducted by CBI in the sting operation case as after it raised doubts regarding the impartiality of the probe being conducted by the West Bengal Police and the footage was certified as authentic by the Central Forensic Laboratory (CFL). The Court also directed the CBI to register an FIR against those who were involved in the case, if required.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is also running a parallel investigation. It has lodged a case about misappropriation of public funds under Anti-Corruption-Act and has issued multiple summons to the accused and Samuel. On April 17, 2017, the CBI filed a First Information Report against 12 Trinamool leaders for "criminal conspiracy". The CBI also subsequently summoned all of the involved figures, to assist in the investigation.
The ruling Trinamool Congress initially denied any connection with the sting operation calling it a product of political conspiracy and alleging that the videos were forged. CM Mamata Banerjee called it a smear campaign by the opposition manifesting from vendetta-politics. Later, the TMC also claimed that the money received was in the form of a donation. The Communist Party of India (CPIM) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) organised mass protests demanding the resignation of the politicians involved in the scam.
Last week, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar granted the CBI permission to prosecute the four TMC leaders including the two ministers. This came less than 24 hours before Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim were sworn in as ministers in West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee's new cabinet. Mukherjee was elected the Protem speaker of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly on May 6.
The central agency had in January sought sanction from the Governor to prosecute the four leaders in the case. "Governor of West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankar accorded sanction for prosecution in respect of Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee, for the reason that all of them at the relevant time of commission of crime were holding the position of ministers in the government of West Bengal," a statement issued by Raj Bhavan said last week.