Bengal Govt’s ‘Siege’: Timing of Narada Case Points to ‘Vendetta’
Should a five-year-old case take precedence over a deadly virus that is choking the very breath of the country?
While haunting images of unimaginable devastation unleashed by COVID-19 wrack the very soul of India, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has decided to take prompt action in a 5-year-old case.
Amid a lockdown, the central agency has arrested three of West Bengal’s ruling party, the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) senior politicians, including two Cabinet Ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, as well as MLA Madan Mitra and former Mayor Sovan Chatterjee, in Kolkata.
The findings of the Narada sting operation, which was conducted in West Bengal in 2014 for over two years, were released on a private news website before the 2016 assembly elections in the state. Prominent members of the ruling party in the state were seen as accepting bribes.
The list of 13 include two who are now with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), namely, Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari. It remains to be seen if and when action is taken against the rest. Adhikari, who beat Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram in the recent elections, was also seen in the video clips accepting money.
What Went Down at Kolkata’s Nizam Palace
While the country struggles to combat the second surge of a raging pandemic, Kolkata witnessed these arrests, followed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s arrival at the CBI's Kolkata headquarters at Nizam Palace. In true street-fighter style, Didi demanded that she be arrested first. While she camped inside for six hours, uncontrolled chaos ensued outside, with close to 3000 of Didi’s supporters shouting anti-CBI and anti-BJP slogans, even hurling stones at the central forces guarding the premises.
The imposition of a lockdown was not a deterrent. Both caution and the fear of COVID-19 were thrown to the wind. By the evening, the accused were granted interim bail by a special CBI court.
The CBI, however, moved the Calcutta High Court, which stayed the bail order. The four were remanded to judicial custody till the High Court hears the plea to cancel the bail on Wednesday. The chief minister’s conduct earned the ire of the High Court with it observing, “confidence of the people in the justice system will be eroded in case such type of incidents are allowed to happen in matters where political leaders are arrested and are to be produced in the court”.
Is the CBI Still an ‘Independent’ Body?
A state that has just recovered from a month-long gruelling election and is now battling a pandemic that shows no signs of abating didn't quite expect this high-voltage drama.
While the legality of this operation is not being questioned as the CBI is meticulous with its paperwork, has the investigating agency coalesced with politics?
The arrest of an MLA requires the sanction of the speaker of the state legislative assembly. In this case, the state assembly stood dissolved and the new assembly had not been sworn in post the elections. Since the Speaker had not been appointed as yet, the CBI, in accordance with legal provisions, received West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar's permission to proceed with the prosecution on 7 May.
Is the CBI an independent, neutral agency that cannot be nudged by the powers-that-be? Or can it be manipulated by those in authority? Was it wrong of successive opposition parties to refer to it as ‘a caged parrot’ and now even ‘Rottweiler’?
If deemed of huge importance, why was no action taken against the guilty when the Narada sting exposed their 'wrong-doing' in 2016? The question that needs to be addressed is the 'strategic' timing of this quest for justice. The guilty need to be brought to book — but should a five-year-old case take precedence over a deadly virus that is choking the very breath of the country?
Politics of ‘Vendetta’: What Message is the BJP Trying to Put Across?
True, there are no full stops in politics. Is it simply that a battle-bruised BJP is not going to retreat? Having faced rejection in Bengal a little over two weeks ago, is this political vendetta being unleashed on both the administration and the Bengal voter?
Is it a message being sent to the chief minister? The next target could be her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who was recently raided in a coal scam investigation. Is it a message to the BJP’s own cadre as rumours are rife that some would return to the TMC? Is it a warning to curb the post-poll violence unleashed in the villages? Or is it a message to the voter — that the game is not yet over?
A political observer shares his views: “For the BJP, is Bengal the rotten apple in the basket? Or is it the fear that Bengal has the spark and the idea from where the seeds of the destruction of the BJP could sprout? Bengal could be the BJP’s nemesis. History is replete with examples. Hitler and Napoleon spent their energy trying to dominate Russia. It sapped their energy and resources and led to their downfall.”
Digging Up the Narada Scam Amid COVID Crisis: Misplaced Priorities?
A newly sworn-in government is in a state of disarray. A protesting chief minister spending the day at the CBI office, ministers arrested, one of whom is heading the battle against COVID, doesn’t augur well for Bengal.
Is this another instance of our PM’s skewed priorities? If the Narada scam could wait 5 years, surely nothing cataclysmic would happen if it was put on hold till the COVID crisis was brought under control.
An enraged resident of Kolkata, where the BJP did not win a single seat in the recent assembly elections, says: “they (the central leadership) still haven't gauged the mood of the state. Are these steps towards President's Rule? This is mindless arrogance and the criminal desire to win at any cost. Citizens are dying because of lack of facilities and medical supplies. We need the state administration to focus and fight the virus and not have to combat dirty political tricks.”
The battle for Bengal is over. The victorious have taken charge. Ministers have been sworn in. Portfolios assigned. The state needs to focus. The real battle now is the one against COVID-19.
(The author is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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