The CBI’s filing of an FIR against 13 persons, including senior leaders of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, in the Narada sting footage case is a huge blow to TMC and a shot in the arm for the BJP which has been waging a high-stakes political battle against it.
The leaders have been booked by the CBI for corruption in the Narada sting case where they were allegedly caught on camera taking money. Among those whose names figure in the FIR are Trinamool vice president and Rajya Sabha member Mukul Roy, the party’s Lok Sabha members Sougata Roy, Sultan Ahmed, Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, state ministers Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim, city mayor and state minister Sovan Chatterjee and former minister Madan Mitra. In the first set of tapes released by Narada News, the leaders were shown accepting wads of cash. It was in the second set, mostly featuring Firhad Hakim, in which favours were promised.
Hakim was filmed saying there were “lots of infrastructure projects coming up in West Bengal… especially roads.” He also said that the quality of MLAs in the TMC had dropped and all that investors needed to do was apply for projects, and that he would ensure these were passed. The case has been registered on the completion of preliminary enquiry (PE) by the CBI on directions of a division bench of the Calcutta High Court, comprising acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice T Chakraborti. The Calcutta High Court ordered the PE a month back. The Trinamool appealed to the Supreme Court on March 21, challenging the High Court’s order but the apex court refused to interfere with it. While the Narada case made no major impact on the TMC’s fortunes in the 2016 Assembly polls, in both the recent byelections the BJP emerged the runner-up, behind TMC, leaving behind both the Left and the Congress. If that is a pointer to the shape of things to come, it could well presage an improved performance for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal in 2019. That is what the BJP is targeting. The controversy had erupted in election-bound West Bengal in March last year when Narada News portal uploaded a series of video footage purportedly showing a number of high-profile Trinamool leaders receiving money in exchange for favours to a fictitious company. A lot of people who had brushed aside the issue, taking the expose as a manifestation of Mamata-Modi tug of war are now taking it more seriously.
An interesting sidelight of the whole drama is that, angry with its central leadership, the Bengal unit of Congress has decided to boycott two of its senior leaders — Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi after the two Congress leaders represented the Mamata government in the Narada sting case at the Supreme Court recently. Ironically, it was a PIL filed by the party’s Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Abdul Mannan that had led to the Calcutta High Court ordering CBI to prove the case. Through all this the BJP is chuckling with glee at Trinamool’s discomfiture.