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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Narada after Saradha, most tension-filled Durga Puja for Trinamool leaders this year

It won’t be surprising if several TMC leaders pray for divine intervention after the arrest of an IPS officer in Narada sting case that claims to have taped several prominent politicians accepting wads of cash from a man posing as a representative of a firm.

kolkata Updated: Oct 03, 2019 18:01 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Prominent TMC leaders including Saugata Roy are seen taking money in the Narada sting videos.
Prominent TMC leaders including Saugata Roy are seen taking money in the Narada sting videos.(PTI Photo/File/Representative)

Though goddess Durga has been imagined in many forms, the most popular is durgatinashini or trouble shooter. Nothing suits the ruling Trinamool Congress better, for never since the foundation of the party in January 1998, did so many senior leaders appear to be in imminent peril at the same time, like this year.

As the biggest festival in Bengal approached, the Central Bureau of Investigation began interrogating Bharatiya Janata Party national executive member Mukul Roy for his alleged links with the Narada scam, the sting operation where about a dozen political leaders were seen brazenly accepting cash from a man purportedly representing a fictitious company.

On September 26, CBI sleuths, who were accused of making tardy progress in a case seen by many as an open and shut case of greasing palms, arrested an Indian Police Service officer S M H Mirza, seen taking wads of cash in the video. Mirza is said to be close to Roy-- seen advising the man behind the sting operation to go and meet Mirza.

While this prelude to the pujas would have made ruling Trinamool leaders happy, they cannot be faulted if they still scamper for protection of the goddess.

TMC leaders seen in the footage were Saugata Roy, Aparupa Poddar, Sultan Ahmed, Prasun Banerjee and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar (Lok Sabha MPs), Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim, Suvendu Adhikari, Sovan Chatterjee, Madan Mitra (ministers) and Iqbal Ahmed (MLA).

While Sultan Ahmed has died, Sovan Chatterjee has joined the BJP. Yet, the number of Trinamool faces seen in the footage is big, and they are no village or district-level leaders – some of them are known even outside the state and are virtual ambassadors for the party.

Opposition leaders are already asking if an officer can be taken into custody for taking money, why politicians should stay out for the same offence.

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar said she accepted money as donation for the party but it is not known if she issued a receipt for the cash.

Trinamool leaders can only hope for a miracle like the one seen in assembly elections 2016, when the Narada sting video, publicized by the BJP a fortnight before the polls, failed to prevent a TMC landslide despite the widespread impression that it would cost Mamata Banerjee’s party dear.

However, analysts point out that it is a different game this time with the BJP’s emergence as a strong opposition that won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state and cornered 40.25 per cent of votes cast.

Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science of Rabindra Bharati University feels Narada might further strengthen the gathering winds of anti-incumbency in the state.

So does political commentator Rajat Roy, who said there are hardly any precedents of so many prominent leaders being seen taking money at the same time.

It might prove detrimental to the party in the civic elections that are expected in 2020 summer, which will be the last pan-Bengal electoral exercise before the crucial 2021 assembly polls that might turn out to be a do-or-die battle for Mamata Banerjee.

The CBI action on Narada comes as a double whammy as the agency has Rajeev Kumar in its crosshairs, the head of the state CID, who is extremely close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and accused of concealing and tampering evidence to protect influential beneficiaries of the Saradha scam. Kumar may end up in CBI net sooner or later and put several senior party leaders into difficulty.

Congress state president Somen Mitra has gone so far as to suggest that Kumar might be sacrificed to save the skin of senior leaders.

It is true that Trinamool Congress is not the only party whose leaders have been accused of taking cash, it is also true that they are accused of taking relatively small amounts – about Rs 4 to 5 lakhs each. But then it is also true that very few politicians actually get caught receiving money on tape! If the IPS officer’s arrest is not an exception, Trinamool leaders will need nothing short of divine protection.