As battle lines are drawn between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the role of Central investigating agencies, the recent ‘seizures’ of large amounts of cash has put the West Bengal’s ruling party in a tight spot.
On September 10, Enforcement Directorate seized more than ₹7 crore in cash from the residence of a businessman in Kolkata’s Garden Reach area, allegedly in connection with a mobile gaming app fraud. This was the fifth seizure of cash by investigating agencies in the past two months since a large amount of cash was seized from the residence of an associate of former Minister and TMC leader Partha Chatterjee.
With photographs of piles of seized cash being aired and published by the media, the State’s ruling party is finding it difficult to counter allegations of corruption. Despite the seizure on September 10 having no links to the TMC, a number of Ministers of the West Bengal government targeted the Central investigation agencies over it.
West Bengal Minister and Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation Firhad Hakim said that action needs to be taken against the guilty but the agencies were “destroying the economy of West Bengal” through a series of raids.
The cash was seized on September 10 from the residence of Kolkata-based businessman Nisar Ahmed Khan, whose son, Amir Khan, had allegedly launched a mobile application, E-Nuggets, to defraud the public.
“ED has been carrying out search operations under the provisions of the PMLA, 2002 (on 10.09.2022) at 06 premises in Kolkata, in respect to an investigation relating to the Mobile Gaming Application. Huge cash (More than ₹7 Crore) has been found at the premises.” ED tweeted after the seizure.
The recent seizures began on July 23, when cash valued at ₹23 crore along with gold ornaments was seized by the ED from the residence of Arpita Mukherjee, former TMC Minister Partha Chatterjee’s associate. A few days later, ₹27 crore was seized in cash from a different property of Ms. Mukherjee’s. The ED made those seizures in connection with the school service recruitment scam.
On September 3, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a press statement said that ₹80 lakh cash had been seized from the premises of TMC leader Raju Sahani, Chairperson of the Halishar Municipality, in connection with a chit fund scam. A day later, on September 4, ₹1.40 crore cash was seized by the West Bengal CID from a fish trader at Gazole in Malda.
While no cash was recovered in connection with the arrest of TMC leader Anubrata Mondal, the CBI had pointed out that a fixed deposit worth ₹16.97 crore belonging to his family members and associates had been seized by the investigators. Mr. Mondal was arrested by the CBI on August 11 in a cross border cattle smuggling scam.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said that the seizures indicated, “black money is dominating the political and economic landscape of the State”.
The State BJP leadership, including Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, has targeted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over the cash seizures and had alleged that the money seized from Mr. Chatterjee’s aide was “someone’s else money”.
While the TMC leadership had described the arrests of its leaders by the Central agencies as “politically motivated” the party chairperson has herself appeared concerned over the cash seizures. “If tomorrow the agencies say that Bobby [Firhad Hakim] has been arrested because huge cash was seized from him, people should not believe it. It will be completely staged,” Ms. Banerjee said at a public meeting on August 29.
Political observers say that alongside arrest of its key leaders, the TMC is concerned about public perception over the regular seizures of unaccounted cash. “The cash which appears to have been sourced through illegal means is turning out to be a burden for the TMC. The party is trying its best to disown and wash its hands from the unaccounted cash,” Biswanath Chakraborty, Professor of Political Science at Rabindra Bharati University, said.