Four senior political leaders, including two Ministers of West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress government and a party MLA, were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Narada sting operation case and will remain in judicial custody till Wednesday.
While a city court where the accused were virtually produced granted them interim bail, the Calcutta High Court late in the evening issued a stay on the order after counsel for the CBI approached the Chief Justice of the High Court.
The High Court will hear the matter on Wednesday and till then the four leaders — Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee — will be in custody.
The CBI arrests took place early in the morning with Ministers Mukherjee and Hakim, veteran MLA Madan Mitra and former Minister and Mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee, who recently quit the BJP, all picked up from their residences and brought to the CBI headquarters at Nizam Palace in south Kolkata.
As news of the arrests broke, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the CBI office. She remained on the premises for almost six hours. Lawyers representing those arrested said Ms. Banerjee had dared the CBI authorities to take her into custody.
The four were virtually produced before a city court, where the CBI sought 14-day judicial custody.
Also read: CBI action against TMC Ministers in Narada scam ‘malafide’
The lawyers for the accused argued that there was no need for custody since the chargesheet had been filed. The defence added that custodial interrogation was not required in the time of a pandemic.
The Narada tapes, which were allegedly shot some time in 2014, were made public in 2016, months before the State went to the polls then. The purported videos showed about a dozen Trinamool leaders, MPs and Ministers accepting cash on camera from an operator of a fictitious company. In March 2017, the Calcutta High Court directed the CBI to probe the tapes. The agency filed an FIR against 13 persons in April, 2017, including the four persons arrested on Monday.
“The main allegation in the case was that the 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.
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.
Hundreds of Trinamool Congress supporters also gathered outside the CBI office. Violence erupted with the TMC supporters throwing stones and bottles at the central forces deployed who resorted to a baton charge. The clashes continued for several hours.
TMC workers dispersed later in the evening after news of the TMC leaders being granted bail. 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.
As party supporters staged a demonstration outside the Raj Bhawan, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, in a series of tweets, said there was “lawlessness”. He 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 realise 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.