Standoff in Kolkata

Even before the newly elected Assembly has convened, a political storm is brewing in West Bengal over the arrest of four TMC leaders by the CBI in connection with the Narada sting carried out in 2014 that showed a number of party men allegedly accepting bribe from a journalist posing as a businessman. CM Mamata Banerjee has argued that the permission of the Assembly Speaker should have been taken even as the Governor, who sprung into action after being prodded by the Centre over the post-poll violence in the state, has maintained that he had the right to approve their prosecution being the appointing authority, a point which will be contested because ministers and MLAs are also elected representatives accountable to the people, with the right to knock at the doors of the court for the redress of their grievances.

It could not be a mere coincidence that the tapes of the sting operation were released before the 2016 Assembly elections, after which the Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI probe in 2017. Incidentally, some of the leaders who figured in the Narada tapes crossed over to the BJP from the TMC before the 2021 elections. The Central agency and the prosecution sanctioning authority need to reassure that their actions do not reek of political vendetta because the CBI has not yet arrested a turncoat — now a BJP MLA — figuring in the tapes. The journalist who had carried out the operation was also later booked by the state government.

Politically, the incident is a throwback to the times when a similar sting operation caught the then BJP president Bangaru Laxman on camera allegedly accepting money for facilitating a fictitious defence deal. The incident had damaged the BJP politically. Even now, while the onus lies on the political parties to ensure financial probity in their ranks, it should also be the duty of the investigating agencies and courts to ensure that their actions are bereft of political motives.

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