Two top Bengal Ministers sent to jail in cash-for-favours scam

Call it a twist of fate. The High Court in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata on Monday night stayed the bail of two top ministers in the West Bengal government and two other politicians in a high-profile cash-for-favours scam.

The four politicians -- serving ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, and former ministers Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee -- were granted bail by a special court in the evening, more than seven hours after they were arrested by the country's top federal investigative agency for their alleged role in the Narada tapes scandal.

"But the High Court stayed the bail of the four politicians after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) challenged the order of the special court. Firhad, Subrata, Madan and Sovan have been sent to jail custody. The court will hear the case on Wednesday," lawyer Sushanto Roy said.

"The CBI has also demanded that the trial in the case be transferred to another state," he told UNB over the phone from Kolkata.

Earlier in the day, high drama unfolded in Kolkata as Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee staged a five-hour dharna outside the CBI office in protest against the "illegal" arrest of her two senior ministers for their alleged role in the Narada tapes scandal.

She also dared the CBI slueths to arrest her in the case as hundreds of her supporters thronged the federal probe agency's office and threw stones at the central security forces guarding the premises.

"The way they have been arrested without due procedure, the CBI will have to arrest me also," she said, indicating that the state assembly speaker didn't give his mandatory consent to the arrest of the two Ministers.

In fact, all the four accused were picked up by the CBI and the federal security forces from their houses in the morning.

While Firhad and Subrata are Urban Development and Panchayati Raj Ministers, respectively, Madan is a legislator of Mamata's ruling Trinamool Congress party. Sovan, on the other hand, is Kolkata's former Mayor. He left the Trinamool in 2019 to join India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, but quit the outfit before the assembly polls.

The two serving and two former Ministers were arrested barely 10 days after Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar approved the CBI's plea to prosecute the four accused in the Narada tapes scandal.

Also read: Two top Bengal Ministers get bail in cash-for-favours scam

The Governor then claimed that his approval "is more than enough" for the arrest of the accused as he had presided over their swearing-in ceremony. "Governor accorded sanction for prosecution... being the appointing authority of ministers @MamataOfficial under article 164 and thus competent authority," he tweeted on May 9.

The Narada scandal was a sting operation carried out by a journalist that caught on tape several ministers and senior officials of the erstwhile Mamata government accepting cash bribes in exchange for doling out unofficial favours to a private firm looking to set up business in Bengal.

Earlier this month, Mamata scripted history by single handedly pulling off an astounding victory in the assembly election. She not only defied anti-incumbency and staved off a huge challenge from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP, but also decimated the Left Front.

Though her party swept back to power with a resounding majority of 213 seats in the 292-member assembly, the 66-year-old lost her own seat in Nandigram to her former protege-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari by a thin margin of around 2,000 votes.

"This is Bangla's win... this is Bengal's win... this is your win. This win has saved Bengal, it has saved the culture and tradition of Bengal," she said, addressing a press meet on the counting day.

Mamata had, however, made it clear in that presser only that she would challenge the result in a court of law. "How come the Election Commission reversed the results in Nandigram after formally announcing it? We will move court."

The BJP though has made major gains in Bengal, winning some 77 seats. In 2016, the party had just three legislators in the state. However, the Left Front has failed to grab a single seat this time. The Left Front ruled Bengal for 34 years -- from 1977 to 2011.

Bengal witnessed the most high-profile contest in India's recently held state elections. While Mamata harped on being Bengal’s daughter, the BJP asked people to vote for "change and socio-economic development" after 50 years of Communist and Trinamool Congress rule.

Source: United News of Bangladesh