The political turmoil in West Bengal soon after the ascension of Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress to power for the second time, deviated to the 2016 sensational Narada tape case with the arrest of four TMC leaders, including two ministers in the newly formed state government.
Now all attention is on the state and the BJP-ruled Central government, the whose investigating agency, the CBI, made headway with conspicuous haste and blessings of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to the latest development.
The 2016 Narada Tape Case revolves around the then elected representatives aligned to the TMC and the corruption charges on them as a breach of oath.
Some of the accused in the case now are seen with the BJP, who have perched onto the national party hoping for a better prospect in an anticipated BJP government coming to power in Bengal and with an alleged motive of avoiding prosecution in cases that are under the Central agencies' investigations.
The CBI arrested Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, the ministers in Mamata Banerjee's newly-formed cabinet and Madan Mitra, and Sovan Chatterjee. Mitra is an MLA of TMC and Chatterjee is a former legislature.
Though he is happy with the latest development in the Narada Case, Mathew Samuel, a senior journalist whose sting operation originally brought out the corruption into the limelight, said he would move against the absence of prosecution against Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy who have now become the spine of the BJP in the state.
He said he has all the evidence on record against the accused in the case, including Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy. In fact, Mukul Roy, once the right hand of Mamata Banerjee and now the national vice-president of the BJP, is the accused No 1 according to the FIR filed back then.
The Narada tape came to the surface on the public platforms just weeks away from the West Bengal assembly polls in 2016. In the video, Trinamool leaders are seen accepting money in lakhs promising favours to a fictitious company.
Merit of the Case
Talking about the merit of the case, Samuel said, "the solid proof of the video recordings where these leaders and the then public office holders are receiving cash with a little pinch of hesitation is what corroborated how deep-rooted and pervasive corruption is in the government system." The most ludicrous part of this sting operation is he said, that none of the leaders and officials he had approached had attempted to ascertain the veracity of the company nor did they try to know the background of the persons they encountered."
"They all are concerned with the amount of the money and the way it should reach their hands," he said. All the conversation related to this and the handing over of liquid cash were recorded and submitted before the respective investigative agencies, including the CBI," he said.
The 52-hour long video footage recorded by Samuel and his colleague uncovered the involvement of the then TMC MPs Mukul Roy, Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Bannerjee, Suvendu Adhikari, Aparupa Poddar and Sultan Ahmad and State ministers Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim and Iqbal Ahmed in the bribe transaction in return of favour towards the company in illegal means misusing their official status, which constituted a breach of the oath they all had taken as a public representative.
Soon after the release of the video, the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee headed by BJP veteran L K Advani summoned Samuel, who submitted all visuals and related documents before the panel. But the panel did little to take any prosecution action against the accused members of the Parliament.
Subsequently, the then Bengal government initiated a probe into the bribe case based on the visuals and even booked Samuel, slapping on him various sections, including IPC 469 (forgery to harm reputation), 500 (defamation) and 120(B) (criminal conspiracy). On Samuel's counter-petition on August 5, 2016, the Kolkata High Court put a stay on the state probe, saying the police cannot run a concurrent investigation along with a court-monitored probe.
"The funding of the sting operation is one of the elements that fortify the merit of the case," Samuel said. He said he had to prove the source of the money handed over to the various leaders and the total expenses - that came to the tune of Rs 80, 00,000 - before several investigative agencies to show he was not a mutual beneficiary, and that his intention was purely to expose those corrupt politicians.
Samuel claimed that he did this sting operation with the fund provided by K D Singh, the TMC RajyaSabha MP and majority owner of Tehelka, with a tacit intention to reinvigorate Tehelka magazine, which had seen its fall since TarunTejpal, its former chief editor was arrested in a sexual assault case.
All the documents, acquaintances and related bills for receiving money from the people related to KD Singh, were in the records and presented in the court on demand, he said.
Political Dimension of Narada Tape
Samuel Mathew has expressed his disapproval in the unravelling political scenario in West Bengal over the Narada Tape, as now some are getting special privilege in avoiding arrest despite law insisting on equal treatment to all accused.
He said he has recordings of SuvenduAdhikari receiving money from him in Adhikari's office. He has claimed to have gone through forensic tests and to have given statements regarding Adhikari's acceptance of money And as for Mukul Roy, Samuel said, he had given Rs 20 lakh to him through HMS Mirza, IPS who was the Superintendent of Police (SP) Burdwan.
SP Mirza, who was arrested and suspended later, was a close acquaintance of Mukul Roy, had also given statements against Roy to the CBI, Samuel said. "There are visuals with me in which Roy was asking me to hand over the money to Mirza, pointing out the practical difficulty in keeping money in his office for the fear of constant raids," said Samuel.
Meanwhile, sources from the CBI informed that they are waiting for clearance from higher authorities to move against Adhikari, Roy and others.
What Is Narada Tape
In 2014, Mathew Samuel approached these politicians in West Bengal, offering money for favouring Impex Consultancy Solutions, a fictitious company he had formed. Samuel and his colleague were said to have recorded the entire sequence of dealings related to the bribe over a fabricated company.
He has claimed to have conducted this sting on behalf of Tehelka, released through a private news website Narada News for months in 2016. Samuel is the former managing editor of Tehelka.
However, Samuel's claim of his funding from K D Singh for this sting operation has since been denied by Singh in a statement given to the CBI.
On March 17, 2017, the Calcutta high court ordered that a preliminary probe should be conducted by the CBI. The court also directed the CBI to register an FIR against those who were involved in the case, if required.
Meanwhile, a parallel probe into this case has also been conducted by Enforcement Directorate. The ED has filed a case of misappropriation of public funds under Anti-Corruption Act and has issued multiple summonses to the accused and Samuel.