Trinamool: why was a Chennai lady lawyer fixing deals?

The Congress hit back at its former ally, the Trinamool Congress, on Thursday for trying to link Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s lawyer-wife, Nalini, to the multicrore Saradha chit fund scam that has rocked West Bengal and has the potential of destroying the Mamata Banerjee government, as two Trinamool MPs are associated with the group. The Congress has not just dismissed the allegations against its leaders but also demanded, along with the CPI(M), a CBI enquiry into the murky affairs of the chit fund that has left thousands of small investors in the State without their life savings.

On its website, the Trinamool insinuated that the “Chennai-based wife” of a Central Minister had “solicited capital and investment” from Saradha owner Sudipta Sen — who was arrested in Jammu and Kashmir a few days ago — on behalf of another client and charged Rs. 1 crore to draft an agreement.

The party took its cue from Mr. Sen’s 18-page letter to the CBI, in which he has written that Manoranjana Sinh (ex-wife of the former Minister of State, Matang Sinh, in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government) had wanted to sell her Positive Group to him and, therefore, introduced Nalini Chidambaram to him as her lawyer. “Madam Chidambaram,” he writes, “requested me to help her for setting up a TV channel in North East in Guwahati and support her extending Rs. 42 crores to her company … Madam Chidambaram herself prepared the agreement wherein she is the sole arbitrator for if at all any dispute arises and requested me for financially support her .. Madam Chidambaram fixed her consultancy and .. more than Rs. one crores have been given to her.”

But sources close to Ms. Chidambaram have been quick to deny the allegations: they say Ms. Chidambaram was engaged as a senior advocate by Ms. Sinh in a company petition she had filed before the Company Law Board against Positive TV Ltd and her husband Matang Sinh. The case is still pending with the Company Law Board. Ms. Chidambaram represented and advised Ms. Sinh in her professional activities. Subsequently, these sources add, the Saradha Group brought a proposal to invest in Ms. Sinh’s company. As agreed to by both parties, due diligence was conducted of Saradha. The conclusion was that it would not be prudent or appropriate to go forward with the proposed arrangement, and that the proposal should be dropped. Both parties were advised accordingly. The advice, the sources stress, was adverse to the objective of the Saradha Group. The Trinamool’s colourfully worded allegation on its website reads: “Why was a Chennai lady lawyer fixing deals in the Saradha scam? Congress minister must clarify.” It says, among other things, that “Senior Advocates are usually barred from meeting clients directly. Why did the lady lawyer make an exception in the case of Sudipta Sen?... What was the lady lawyer’s interest in the venture? Why was she soliciting capital and investment from Sudipta Sen, almost in the manner of an investment banker? ... so many good, senior lawyers are available in New Delhi and Guwahati. Why did the promoter go to a lawyer in faraway Chennai to draft the agreement and act as consultant? Was there a hint of political coercion and protection money?”

The innuendos on the website end with the comment: “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. This rule applies for the Trinamool in Kolkata. Does it apply for the Congress in New Delhi and Chennai?”

Meanwhile, Congress MP and MoS for Urban Development Deepa Dasmunsi told journalists on Thursday, “We demand a CBI enquiry so that the truth comes out and I will like to say with absolute certainty that no Congress leader’s name will come out.”

Accusing the Trinamool government of shying away from taking responsibility for the scam in which the poor had been “looted” of their hard-earned money, she said Trinamool leaders had been seen at several Saradha group programmes promoting the organisation. She also raised doubts over the Chief Minister’s proposal to set up a Rs. 500-crore relief fund for small and medium depositors, saying that raising Rs. 150 crore through the imposition of a 10 per cent tax on cigarettes was “impossible.”

Congress MP’s about-turn

There is also a side story: Congress MP and MoS for Health A.H. Khan Chowdhury had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to look at the chit funds in West Bengal, but subsequently wrote another letter, withdrawing his allegations. On Thursday, the Trinamool uploaded this second letter on its website.