Mamata Banerjee won the 2016 Assembly polls in West Bengal with 211 seats (out of 294), a resounding majority. Now, less than a year since the elections, she is unnerved that some of her top party colleagues may be called in for interrogation, and even face arrest, in the Narada investigations, which the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will conduct. Already, two of her important MPs — Sudip Bandopadhyay and Tapas Pal — have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the Rose Valley chit fund scam.
Two months before the Assembly elections in May 2016, some videos recorded during a sting operation (conducted by Narada News CEO Mathew Samuel in 2014) were released. In the footage, several people, who looked similar to Trinamool Congress leaders, along with an IPS officer from West Bengal, were seen accepting cash — either taking money from a journalist (who posed as the agent of a fictitious company) or directing him to people to whom the money could be handed over.
Persons resembling top Trinamool Congress leaders — Kolkata Mayor Sovon Chatterjee, Subrata Mukherjee (the state panchayat minister), MPs Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Subhendu Adhikary (now state transport minister) Sougata Roy, Sultan Ahmed and IPS officer SMH Mirza were seen accepting cash. Two others, resembling state urban development minister Firhad Hakim and MP Mukul Roy respectively, were also seen in the videos but were not taking money.
Banerjee had won the 2016 Assembly polls in West Bengal with 211 seats out of 294.
The CBI has been given a month by the Supreme Court to conduct a preliminary probe. The only consolation for the Trinamool Congress leadership is that there is no scope for arrest till a first information report (FIR) is lodged by the investigating agency. The FIR is lodged after the initial investigation is complete. There is also little possibility of the CBI calling the leaders for interrogation during this time (till the lodging of the FIR), which may stall the embarrassment for the Trinamool Congress leadership for a while longer.
The political pressure is clearly showing on Banerjee.
Interestingly, Sovon Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Subhendu Adhikary and Subrata Mukherjee had all contested the elections in May 2016 and won by huge margins (despite the video footage being made public). But at the moment, that's hardly any consolation for Mamata Banerjee. Chatterjee and Hakim are two of her closest aides who have been with her through thick and thin. Both look after a majority of the party's affairs.
Following the arrest of MPs Sudip Bandopadhyay and Tapas Pal, Banerjee said her party and senior leaders were being targeted by the CBI, acting under instructions of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), because she had been a bitter critic of Narendra Modi and was opposing demonetisation. Of late, however, Banerjee has been keeping a stoic silence on the issue. She had, a couple of weeks ago, even said there was need for the state and the Centre to work together.
Banerjee, a few weeks ago, even said there was need for the state and the Centre to work together.
Banerjee has gone back to attacking the BJP since the Calcutta High Court judgment on the Narada case — asking the CBI to conduct the inquiry — was out. But this time her attack is less aggressive, noticeably since the UP election results were out.
She questioned how the state BJP president Dilip Ghosh had commented publicly about "chances that the Narada investigations might be assigned to the CBI" even before the judgment was out. Banerjee also said people wanted to know how much money the BJP had spent in the Uttar Pradesh elections.
But the political pressure is clearly showing on her now. Her attack is less harsh, her words are less caustic. It remains to be seen how Banerjee handles this crisis and whether she gets back to being the aggressive politician she has always been.
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