The CBI on Monday arrested 4 politicians, including 2 TMC ministers and an MLA, in the Narada sting case, triggering a political storm in West Bengal as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna at the probe agency's office while her agitated party supporters besieged the premises and held violent protests in several parts of the state.
The Trinamool Congress accused the BJP leadership after the agency took into custody state ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra as well as former minister Sovan Chatterjee who were allegedly caught on camera while taking a bribe in 2014.
The CBI office at Nizam Palace in Kolkata became the flashpoint as chief minister Mamata Banerjee arrived along with the kin of the arrested politicians and demanded that she also be detained, while angry protestors gathered at the site defying the lockdown and hurled stones and bricks at security personnel.
Banerjee sat on a dharna from 11 am to 5 pm demanding the release of the TMC leaders, reminiscent of her protest against the CBI's move to question the then Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in 2019 in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam case.
As the news spread, hundreds of Trinamool Congress party supporters took to the streets, burnt tyres and blocked roads in several parts of the state. Taking note of the widespread protests across the state, state governor Jagdeep Dhankhar urged the chief minister to contain the "explosive situation" and asked her to weigh the "repercussions of such lawlessness and failure of constitutional mechanism".
The CBI had approached the West Bengal Governor seeking sanction to prosecute Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee, the officials said, adding the sanction was received on May 7, following which the CBI finalised its charge sheet and moved to arrest them.
The case pertains to a purported sting operation conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada TV news channel in 2014 in which TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were purportedly seen receiving "illegal gratification" from representatives of a fictitious company for favours.
The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the sting operation on April 16, 2017.
The sanction for prosecution by the governor was questioned by the West Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee, who contended that the arrests were illegal. "I have not received any letter from the CBI, nor has anybody sought any permission from me as per the protocol," he said.
"I do not know for what unknown reason they went to the governor and sought his sanction. The chair of the speaker was not vacant at that time, I was very much in office. This sanction is absolutely illegal and arresting anyone on the basis of this sanction is also illegal," Banerjee claimed.
Reacting to the arrests, TMC spokesman Kunal Ghosh claimed that the CBI action was a vengeful act and a fallout of the BJP's loss in the West Bengal assembly elections.
"The BJP is still not able to accept defeat in the polls after having made an all-out attempt to win... This is a reprehensible act at a time when the state is fighting the Covid situation, they are trying to create disturbances in such a manner," he said.
Later, the arrested politicians were granted interim bail by a special CBI court. The Central probe agency is likely to move the higher court in the matter.
Meanwhile, adding fuel to the fire, the main man behind the Narada sting operation of 2016, Mathew Samuel, said on Saturday that while he is happy with the arrests, he wondered why Suvendu Adhikari, who also featured in the sting, has been left out. Adhikari, who was a prominent face in the Trinamool camp then, crossed over to the BJP in December last year.