Nearly seven years after a sting operation sought to expose Bengal politicians in bribery scandals, the CBI on Monday (May 17) arrested two senior Trinamool Congress ministers, a party MLA and former Kolkata mayor. An angry Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stormed into the central probe agency’s Kolkata office on May 17 at Nizam Palace and questioned the CBI move, saying it can “arrest her” as well.
The four in question are Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, Transport Ministers Firhad Hakim, TMC MLA from Kamarhati Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor and minister Sovan Chatterjee. Chatterjee though has joined the BJP, he has disassociated himself from the party activities after being denied the party ticket in the Assembly elections concluded last month.
The episode is the first in a fortnight since Mamata Banerjee-led TMC registered a dramatic victory in the Assembly polls, whose aftermath triggered a large-scale violence, prompting the Union Home Ministry to seek explanation from the new government.
The Narada sting operation was carried out by a news portal targeting high-ranking officials and politicians of the TMC in 2014. It was published on a private website months before the 2016 West Bengal Assembly polls. It showed several politicians and a high-ranked police officer accepting cash in exchange for providing unofficial favours to a company.
Also read: Legal questions abound over arrest of 3 top Trinamool leaders
Here’s how ‘Narada’ has played out:
The name: Narada news founder Mathew Samuel conducted the sting operation for over two years since 2014 for the news magazine Tehelka;
Samuel was a key player behind the sting West End which in 2001 led to the resignation of then Defence Minister George Fernandes and later, conviction of BJP chief Bangaru Laxman.
First published: On a private news website Narada News months before the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections. Samuel is the former managing editor of Tehelka;
How the ‘sting’ worked: Samuel formed a fictitious firm, Impex Consultancy Solutions, and approached several TMC ministers, MPs and leaders, asking them for favours in return for money;
What they got: Samuel and his colleague Angel Abraham prepared 52-hour footage. TMC MPs Mukul Roy, Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Bannerjee, Suvendu Adhikari, Aparupa Poddar and Sultan Ahmad (died in 2017), and state ministers Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim and Iqbal Ahmed were seen accepting what appeared to be wads of cash in exchange for extending unofficial favours for the fictitious Impex Consultancy Solutions.
Who else: IPS officer HMS Mirza (arrested in 2019 and now suspended) was also seen taking cash from Samuel. TMC leader Shanku Deb Panda was also seen asking for shares in the fake company in exchange for promised favours.
So, who organized the ‘money’: Samuel claims K D Singh, TMC Rajya Sabha MP and majority owner of Tehelka, knew and funded the operation. Samuel also claimed that the budget of the operation was first set at ₹ 2,5 lakh, but was later raised to ₹ 8,0 lakh. Singh later refuted his involvement in the sting.
Samuel booked: In 2016, the state government initiated its investigation, booking Samuel under multiple sections of the IPC, which, among others, deal with forgery to harm reputation, defamation and criminal conspiracy.
On August 5, 2016, the High Court stayed the state probe indefinitely, saying the police cannot run a concurrent investigation along with a court-monitored probe;
March 17, 2017: The Calcutta HC ordered a preliminary CBI probe. The court also directed the probe agency to register an FIR against those who were involved, if required.
A day later, the state initiated disciplinary proceedings against SMH Mirza.
April 16, 2017: CBI files FIR against 12 Trinamool leaders for “criminal conspiracy”. It also summoned all of the leaders involved to assist in the probe. All of them were booked under sections dealing with criminal conspiracy and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The Enforcement Directorate is also running an investigation. It has lodged a case about misappropriation of public funds and has issued summons to the accused and Samuel.
Since the sting involved Members of Parliament, a Lok Sabha ethics committee was also set up to probe the matter. The committee has met only once.
May 9, 2021: On CBI request, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar sanctioned the prosecution of Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee. A statement issued by Raj Bhavan said that since the Governor is the appointing authority for ministers, he is the “competent authority” to accord such a sanction.
Also read: CBI makes first arrest in Narada case as it takes IPS officer into custody