The twin central investigating agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), have been haunting West Bengal’s ruling party, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC), for about eight years now, starting with their investigations in the 2,500-crore Saradha chit fund scam.
It was just a week before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power in 2014 that the Supreme Court had asked both the agencies to conduct enquiries into the ponzi fund scam and the two agencies had sent the TMC to a tizzy by the end of the year, by arresting a Rajya Sabha MP, a minister and several other leaders.
The tussle over the investigation reached an unprecedented height in 2019 when a group of CBI officers attempted to conduct a raid at Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s residence for alleged non-cooperation with the investigators. They were detained by Kolkata police officials outside Kumar’s residence and taken to a police station. An angry chief minister sat on a dharna in the heart of Kolkata for 70 hours to protest the CBI’s move.
After the Narada sting operation in 2016 showed a number of senior TMC leaders allegedly accepting cash from the representative of a fictitious company, the Calcutta high court ordered a CBI investigation in March 2017 and subsequently, the ED entered the investigation as well.
By 2020, the Centre-state and BJP-TMC tussle had a new issue – the CBI and the ED’s investigation into the cattle and coal smuggling case.
The centre-state tussle over the Narada investigation reached a new high in May 2021, soon after Mamata Banerjee returned to power for a third term. In the small window when the new government was yet to be formed, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar gave the CBI the clearance for filing a charge sheet against incumbent ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Madan Mitra and former minister Sovan Chatterjee. Under usual circumstances, it is the Speaker of the assembly who has to give such permission.
The CBI arrested the four leaders soon after getting Dhankhar’s nod and filing the charge sheet. The TMC alleged that the CBI was working at the behest of the BJP, citing how the agency did nothing for the past four years and how they did not touch Suvendu Adhikari, another accused in the Narada sting operation who had switched over to the BJP in 2020. The ministers got bail after four days, as the CBI failed to convince the court about reasons to keep them behind bars.
September 2021 saw the tussle peaking again, with time with the Assembly passing a breach of privilege motion against ED and CBI officials for arresting the four without intimating the Speaker or seeking his chair. Subsequently, the two agencies moved to Calcutta high court against summons issued to them by Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee. They got a reprieve from the court.
But a new tussle began in connection with the cattle and coal smuggling case, in which the ED, at the beginning of 2022, issued summons to Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister’s nephew and an all-India general secretary of the party. Another prominent leader of the party, Anubrata Mandal of Birbhum district, too, received the CBI’s summons in connection with this case. Both of them have faced the investigators. Mandal has also been questioned by the CBI in connection with the post-poll violence case, another high-court-ordered investigation.
While party secretary-general and industry minister Partha Chatterjee’s arrest by the ED on July 23 in connection with the recovery of allegedly illegal cash comes as the latest addition in the list of leaders who faced arrest, he is very unlikely to be the last one, especially with the CBI and the ED still conducting multiple investigations in the state.