Monday saw an intense political drama play out in Kolkata, as the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested two sitting Ministers in the West Bengal government, and two other Trinamool Congress leaders in the five-year-old Narada Sting Operation case. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached the CBI office and stayed nearly six hours there, while TMC supporters gathered outside and pelted stones at the office.
The arrest came days after Governor Jagdeep Dhankar gave his consent to the CBI for filing a chargesheet against the accused.
Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, Transport and Housing Minister Firhad Hakim; MLA and former minister Madan Mitra and former Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee were granted bail by a Special CBI court following their arrest, but the bail order was stayed by Calcutta High Court late on Monday.
This marks the first public face-off between the BJP-led centre and the TMC-led state since the high-tensions assembly elections ended earlier this month, with a victory for the latter against the former.
What Is The Narada Sting Operation?
Just ahead of the 2016 West Bengal Assembly Elections, a now-defunct private news website by the name of Narada News published a series of tapes showing many then-ministers of the state accepting cash bribes in return for unofficial favours.
The sting operation was conducted for news magazine Tehelka in 2014, by Narada news founder and former managing editor of Tehelka Mathew Samuel.
Samuel, as part of the sting operation, formed a fictitious Chennai-based company named Impex Consultancy Solutions and approached a number of TMC leaders with requests for favours in return for money. This was just months after the Saradha Group financial scandal emerged, involving several members of the TMC.
Over the next two years, Samuel and his colleague Angel Abraham photographed and recorded interactions with then-TMC MPs Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Suvendu Adhikari, Prasun Banerjee, Mukul Roy, Aparupa Poddar and late-Sultan Ahmed, along with ministers Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim and Iqbal Ahmed.
A high ranking IPS officer HMS Mirza was also seen taking bribe from Samuel, while another TMC leader Shanku Deb Panda was seen asking for shares in the company.
In the 52 hours of footage shot by Samuel and Abraham, the TMC leaders and state ministers were seen accepting cash bribes.
Fallout Of The Operation
While the Narada tapes were released just ahead of the 2016 assembly polls, it had no apparent fallout in electoral terms for the TMC, which returned to power with an absolute majority.
While the state government had ordered a probe into the matter by Kolkata Police, three public interest litigations (PILs) were filed by the Congress party and BJP at the Calcutta High Court, asking for impartiality in light of the positions held by the accused in the state government.
On March 17, 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered the CBI to conduct a preliminary probe, and file First Information Reports against those involved, if required. CBI's involvement in the case was initially objected to by the state, but the Supreme Court later stayed an appeal by the state for the same, and allowed the CBI to continue with their investigation.
A month later, the CBI filed an FIR against 12 TMC leaders, and summoned them to assist in the investigations.
Out of all the accused, the only person to face disciplinary action was IPS officer HMS Mirza, who was later suspended and subsequently arrested by the CBI.
Exit To The BJP
While TMC survived the sting operation electorally, the party itself took a hit as many of the accused members had a fallout and eventually left for the BJP.
Mukul Roy, whose name had also come up in the Saradha scandal, was suspended from the party in 2016 after the surfacing of the Narada tapes. A year later he joined the BJP, and is currently the national vice-president for the party.
Suvendu Adhikari, who was also one of the targets of the sting operation, left TMC towards the end of 2020 and joined the BJP to contest 2021 assembly elections, eventually becoming the Leader of the Opposition after beating TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee in a high voltage battle at Nandigram.
Former TMC general secretary Shanku Deb Panda, who was seen asking for shares to Samuel's fictitious company, also left the party to join the BJP ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Former Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee had also left TMC to join the BJP in August 2019, but quit the party in March 2021 after he was denied a ticket to the assembly polls.
Following the recent arrest of the four TMC leaders, Samuels asked, while speaking to NDTV, why leaders defecting to the BJP - like Adhikari - were not part of CBI's probe.