In a major blow to West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, the CBI Friday arrested its Rajya Sabha member Srinjoy Bose – the second party parliamentarian to be nabbed – in connection with the multi-crore rupee Saradha scam.
A peeved Trinamool threatened to hit the streets, while its supremo Mamata Banerjee accused the CBI of taking the side of the “thieves”. The opposition parties demanded her resignation.
Bose, editor of Trinamool mouthpiece Jago Bangla, was accused of ‘blackmail’ by purported scam kingpin and Saradha promoter Sudipta Sen and grilled by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sleuths for nearly six hours before his eventual arrest.
“Bose has been arrested for his prima facie involvement in the Saradha scam on allegations of criminal conspiracy, misappropriation of funds and deriving undue financial benefits. He will be presented before a court Saturday,” a CBI officer told IANS.
Bose – also the editor of Bengali daily Sambad Pratidin and assistant general secretary of city soccer giants Mohun Bagan – is the second Trinamool leader to be arrested by the CBI in the scam.
The agency had earlier arrested party leader and former director general of armed police Rajat Majumdar.
Another Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Kunal Ghosh, who headed Saradha’s media arm, was arrested by police before the Supreme Court directed the CBI to take up the probe.
Besides the CBI, Bose has earlier been grilled by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) which too are probing the scam.
Bose’s arrest came on a day when CBI sleuths grilled Textile Minister Shyamapada Mukherjee and Congress leader Somen Mitra.
Transport Minister Madan Mitra was also summoned by the CBI but he skipped the questioning, citing ill health. He is undergoing treatment at the state-run SSKM Hospital.
Bose was named by Sen in a letter he purportedly wrote to the CBI in April last year.
In the letter, Sen claimed he entered the media business after the Bengali daily started attacking him.
Sen, now under arrest along with his top aides, said after he purchased a television channel Bose alongside Kunal Ghosh came to him and he had to make arrangements for paying Rs.60 lakh per month to the newspaper for running the channel.
Sen had also claimed that the duo promised to ensure a “smooth passage” for him and protect his business from the state and central governments and assured him “they have very close connection” with the chief minister.
Sen in his letter also alleged that over two years, the paper had taken Rs.20 crore from him for running the channel.
Hours before the arrest, Banerjee lashed out at the course of the probe.
“Those people duped by the Saradha and other chit funds are not getting back their money. And the cases are being registered to find who all have duped Saradha. This amounts to taking the side of thieves. Is this your jurisdiction?” she asked.
Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee described Bose’s arrest as the “misuse” of the CBI by the central government in its bid to take “political vengeance” on his party.
“We will rally the people to hit the streets in protest,” Chatterjee said.
The opposition seized the opportunity to score political brownie points.
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Banerjee “should step down in the interest of the scam probe”, while BJP leader Siddharth Nath Singh asserted that Banerjee “should answer the 17 lakh people who were robbed by the scam”.
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said Bose’s arrest was a big blow for Banerjee and her Trinamool.
“It may pave the way for more of its leaders getting arrested. Besides providing fodder to the opposition, it has weakened Banerjee’s position,” the Rabindra Bharati University professor told IANS.
The Saradha scandal came to light in April last year. The company closed shop across Bengal after being unable to pay back the depositors — mainly poor people who, lured by the promise of huge returns, parked their life’s savings with the firm.