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The Potent Sting of Narada: A Close Look at the CBI FIR and the Key Accused

By: Sujit Nath

Last Updated: May 18, 2021, 17:00 IST

Kolkata

Mamata Banerjee at the CBI office on Monday to protest against the arrests.

Mamata Banerjee at the CBI office on Monday to protest against the arrests.

The TMC has accused the CBI of being selective in framing charges against its leaders while sparing Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari.

The arrest of three legislators of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), including ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on May 17 in the Narada sting case has created a stir in the state’s politics. TMC legislator Madan Mitra and ex-Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee (who left the TMC to join the BJP but resigned later) too were held on corruption charges.

The arrests have triggered a controversy with chief minister Mamata Banerjee alleging that the Bharatiya Janata Party in power at the Centre is using the CBI for political interests. She called the arrests “illegal”, citing that the probe agency didn’t take any consent from state assembly speaker Biman Banerjee. She also termed governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s consent to prosecute the leaders “illegal”, “undemocratic” and “unethical”.

Charge of selective action

And, on the afternoon on May 17, when the legal cells of both the CBI and the arrested leaders were busy building up their cases against each other, the TMC as accusing the central agency of being selective in framing charges against its leaders while sparing Trinamool turncoats Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari, also named in the case.

The TMC alleged that the CBI is sheltering Roy and Adhikari because they are now with the BJP and the probe agency is working on the instructions of union home minister Amit Shah.

The drama went on till around midnight when the Calcutta High Court stayed the interim bail granted to the four leaders by a special CBI court a few hours earlier, and they were sent to the Presidency Correctional Centre in Kolkata. Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee were rushed to SSKM College and Hospital after they complained of chest discomfort at night.

On Tuesday morning, Subrata Mukherjee was also admitted to the same medical centre after he complained of giddiness, while Firhad Hakim was lodged at the Uttam Kumar Special Cell inside the Presidency Correctional Centre.

The sting

The sting operation at the centre of the controversy was conducted by Narada news portal founder Mathew Samuel for over two years. Ahead of the 2016 assembly elections, Narada released videos purportedly showing 13 TMC ministers and leaders accepting bribes in return for favours.

The development caused a major embarrassment for Mamata Banerjee, as it came at a time when she and her party were already under criticism for the Saradha chit fund scam.

As part of the sting operation, Samuel formed a fictitious company and approached several Trinamool ministers, asking them for favours in return for money.

Those allegedly seen in the Narada sting tapes were Firhad Hakim, Mukul Roy (now with the BJP), Saugata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Sultan Ahmed, Subrata Mukherjee, Suvendu Adhikari (now with the BJP), Sovan Chatterjee (who joined the BJP and then quit), Aparupa Poddar, Madan Mitra, Iqbal Ahmed, Prasun Banerjee and ex-IPS SMH Mirza.

On March 17, 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered that a preliminary probe be conducted by the CBI. The court also directed the agency to register a first information report (FIR) against others involved in the case, if required.

On April 17, the CBI filed a chargesheet against the 13 leaders and other TMC functionaries. All of them were booked under Section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code, Section 13 (2), 13 (1D) and Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

With the standoff between the state and the Centre likely to intensify in the coming days, here’s a look at CBI’s case (no. RC 0102017 A0010) dated April 16, 2017, against all the four leaders: Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee.

In the FIR lodged by the CBI, all the four accused were charged under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 7, 13(2) read with 13(1)(a) and 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

The “suspected offence” against them mentioned by the CBI in its report is “Public servants accepting or agreeing to accept illegal gratification, committing offences of habitual acceptance of illegal gratification, criminal misconduct and criminal conspiracy”.

Firhad Hakim

A copy of the CBI’s Narada case which is with the News18 claimed that Firhad Hakim (accused number 5, as mentioned by the CBI in its report) in the video file dated May 2, 2014 (which was released by Mathew Samuel in 2016, ahead of the West Bengal assembly polls) was “shown to have agreed to accept Rs 5 lakhs from the Sting Operator and the said amount was shown to have been accepted by his staff on his behalf, on his instruction”.

Firhad Hakim is serving as the cabinet minister for urban development and municipal affairs in West Bengal. In the 1990s, he was first elected as a councillor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). He also served as the mayor of Kolkata. He was elected to the West Bengal legislative assembly in 2009. In December 2018, he was appointed the mayor following the resignation of the incumbent Sovan Chatterjee.

Subrata Mukherjee

“Accused number 11” is TMC minister Subrata Mukherjee, also believed to be charged with the same offences pressed against Firhad Hakim.

In the CBI case report, it is mentioned that “Subrata Mukherjee in the video dated April 13, 2014 was shown to have received Rs 5 lakhs in cash from the Sting Operator, in the presence of Iqbal Ahmed”.

“Subrata Mukherjee was also heard assuring to show favour to the Sting Operator. In another file, Iqbal Ahmed was shown to have accepted Rs 5 lakhs for himself and Rs 1 lakh on behalf of Subrata Mukherjee,” the CBI FIR reads.

Mukherjee started his political journey as a student activist in the 1960s. He was considered one of the two close aides from Bengal of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, along with Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. In 1971 and 1972, he was elected to the legislative assembly from the Ballygunge assembly constituency. Then, he was appointed as a minister of state in the Siddhartha Shankar Ray government.

In 1999, he joined hands with Mamata Banerjee, parting ways with the Indian National Congress. In 2011, after the TMC won a majority in the West Bengal assembly, he was made the minister for public health engineering.

Madan Mitra

For the “accused number 2”, CBI in its FIR mentioned that “Madan Mitra in a video dated April 25, 2014 was shown to have accepted Rs 5 lakhs from the Sting Operator, who told him that his company was looking for work pertaining to highway and infrastructure projects in West Bengal. Madan Mitra told the Sting Operator that he had seen as to how he used to get the work done.”

Madan Mitra started his political career with the Indian National Congress. In 1998, he joined the TMC and in 2011 he was elected to the legislative assembly and became a state minister. He was arrested on December 13, 2014, and convicted in the Saradha chit fund case and imprisoned for a year.

Sovan Chatterjee

The CBI Narada case report also says that “accused no 10 Sovan Chatterjee” was shown in videos dated April 16, 2014, and May 1, 2014, receiving “Rs 4 lakh in cash from the Sting Operator, who promised to pay a further amount of Rs 1 lakh to him on April 17, 2014”.

“Sovan Chatterjee also assured the Sting Operator that he would arrange a meeting for him with Abhishek Banerjee, at least once, after the election. He was heard to agree with the assertion of the Sting Operator that he (Sovan Chatterjee) had already received the entire amount of money from him,” the CBI FIR reads.

Chatterjee is a former mayor of Kolkata and became a municipal councillor for the first time in 1985. He won the Behala Purba seat in the 2011 West Bengal assembly elections. In 2010, he was appointed the mayor of Kolkata by the TMC. On November 22, 2018, he resigned from the post after differences with Mamata Banerjee.

On August 14, 2019, he joined the BJP, but he quit on March 14, 2021.

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first published:May 18, 2021, 17:00 IST
last updated:May 18, 2021, 17:00 IST