New Delhi/Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday visited the residence of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee ahead of the CBI examination of his wife in the coal theft case. The TMC supremo was at Abhishek’s house for around ten minutes.
Rujira Banerjee, the wife of Abhishek, had responded to the CBI’s notice in the alleged coal pilferage scam and asked the central agency to send its team to her residence for examination between 11 am and 3 pm on Tuesday. The CBI had on Sunday asked her to join the probe.
The poll-bound state’s political cauldron was on the boil Sunday over CBI summons to Abhishek Banerjee’s wife in coal pilferage scam, triggering political slugfest with the TMC accusing the BJP of pursuing political vendetta and the saffron party urging it not to politicise the matter.
During the day, a CBI team went to the Kolkata residence of Abhishek Banerjee, TMC MP and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, serving a notice to his wife and his sister-in-law to join the probe in the coal pilferage case.
The Trinamool Congress accused the ruling BJP at the Centre of political vendetta and Abhishek Banerjee said they would not be cowed down by such tactics.
“Don’t try to intimidate us with jail. We have fought against guns and are not afraid of fighting against rats," a fuming Mamata Banerjee said at an event soon after the CBI action. The BJP hit out at the TMC, accusing it of politicising the matter, and said the law will take its course.
The agency team handed over the notice issued by Investigation Officer Umesh Kumar, Additional Superintendent of Police in the CBI, in connection with the case of theft of coal from the mines of Eastern Coalfields Ltd in West Bengal in which Anup Manjhi is the alleged mastermind, sources said. The notice issued on Sunday asked Abhishek Banerjee’s wife Rujira Banerjee to remain present at her address on Harish Mukherjee Road on the same day “for the purpose of answering certain questions relating to the case", they said.
“However, she could not be questioned today," a source said. Rujira’s sister Menaka Gambhir has been asked by the CBI to join the probe on Monday when she will be quizzed by the investigation team, the sources said.
“At 2 PM today, the CBI served a notice in the name of my wife. We have full faith in the law of the land. However, if they think they can use these ploys to intimidate us, they are mistaken. We are not the ones who would ever be cowed down," Abhishek Banerjee tweeted. The notice to Banerjee’s family members from the central agency came a day before a court in Kolkata is due to hear a defamation case filed by him against Home Minister Amit Shah who is spearheading the BJP campaign in the state.
The court has summoned Shah to appear before it “personally or through a pleader" on Monday. Banerjee’s lawyer Sanjay Basu had claimed that Shah had made certain defamatory statements against the TMC MP on August 11, 2018, during a BJP rally at Mayo Road in Kolkata.
The sources said the central probe agency had on Friday carried out a fresh round of searches in connection with the coal theft case. The CBI had registered an FIR in November last year against the alleged kingpin of the pilferage racket Manjhi alias Lala, Eastern Coalfield Ltd General Managers Amit Kumar Dhar (of then Kunustoria area now Pandaveswar area) and Jayesh Chandra Rai (Kajor area) besides ECL Chief of Security Tanmay Das, Area Security Inspector, Kunustoria Dhananjay Rai and SSI and security in-charge Kajor area Debashish Mukherjee.
It is alleged that accused Manjhi Lala is involved in the illegal mining and theft of coal from leasehold mines of ECL in Kunustoria and Kajora areas, the sources said. The assembly elections in the state are due in April-May. The BJP has launched a vigorous campaign to oust the ruling TMC that had secured consecutive wins in 2011 and 2016 under its leader Mamata Banerjee.
Abhishek Banerjee, a Lok Sabha member from Diamond Harbour constituency, wields considerable influence in the party and has been leading the Trinamool Congress’ counter-attack. The CBI has also summoned Binay Mishra, understood to be a close confidant of Abhishek Banerjee, in a separate case of cattle smuggling.
In a statement on the CBI action, the TMC on Sunday said that people will give a befitting reply to the BJP during the polls. “So predictable. So desperate. All BJP allies have left them. So the only loyal allies are CBI and ED," it stated.
“CBI is the only ally of the BJP left," the party said, adding that it was not scared and will fight it out. “The way BJP was targeting Abhishek for the last few days proves that they were up to something," Trinamool Congress spokesperson and MP Sougata Roy said.
The BJP, which has been targeting the TMC over the corruption issue, said those who commit wrong need to be punished as per the law. “If someone has committed any wrong, then the law will take its course. Those who are culprits should be punished. No one should try to politicise the matter," BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya told PTI.
State BJP spokesperson said Shamik Bhattacharya said the TMC leadership should not be worried if it is in the clear. “Why is TMC so worried and tensed if they have committed no wrong? If the CBI acts, then it becomes political vendetta. If the CBI doesn’t act, we hear accusations of political match-fixing of TMC-BJP.
“Let the CBI do its job. If someone has not committed a crime, then there is nothing to worry about," Bhattacharya said. State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said the CBI should conduct its investigation without any political interference.
After having a limited presence in the politically polarised Bengal for decades, the BJP has emerged as the ruling Trinamool Congress’s main rival by winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal 2019 general elections, only four short of TMC’s tally of 22.