West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar - known for his frequent collision with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee - has given his nod to the CBI to prosecute four erstwhile ministers of her government in the Narada tapes scandal.
Two of the former ministers, now facing CBI prosecution, were sworn in on Monday by the Governor himself. Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim were named in a list of 43 ministers released on Sunday.
The sanction and its timing is raising eyebrows, coming as it does just after Mamata Banerjee's resounding victory in the assembly elections that had turned into a direct fight between her and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and also because Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla is yet to sanction the prosecution of Suvendu Adhikari, a former Trinamool Congress minister who is now a BJP MLA from Nandigram.
Mr Adhikari was a Trinamool MP in Lok Sabha at the time of the commission of the crime. He beat Mamata Banerjee at Nandigram by less than 2,000 votes.
In 2014, a journalist from Delhi came to Kolkata, posed as a businessman planning to invest in Bengal, gave wads of cash to seven Trinamool MPs, four ministers, one MLA and a police officer as bribe and taped the entire operation. The tapes were released just before the 2016 assembly elections in the state.
The two other former ministers whom the Governor has now cleared for prosecution are Madan Mitra, a Trinamool MLA not named minister in the new government, and Sovan Chatterjee who left Trinamool in August 2019, joined the BJP but quit in March. He did not contest the just-concluded polls.
"Governor accorded sanction for prosecution... being the appointing authority of ministers @MamataOfficial under article 164 and thus competent authority," the Governor tweeted on Sunday evening.
Governor accorded sanction for prosecution of Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra & Sovan Chatterjee being appointing authority of Ministers @MamataOfficial under Article 164 & thus competent authority— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) May 9, 2021
Media reports that sanction was for being MLA is incorrect. pic.twitter.com/vqEg7Cv6OW
He was responding, a press release by Raj Bhavan said, to some media reports that he had given his sanction for prosecution because all four where members of the legislative assembly at the time of commission of crime.
Just as the Speaker of Lok Sabha has to sanction prosecution of any MP, the Speaker of the state assembly should sanction prosecution of MLAs. But in the Narada scam, the CBI did not ask the Bengal assembly Speaker for sanction but approached the Governor instead.
The Governor has said he has the authority to sanction prosecution not because the four leaders named were MLAs but because they were ministers sworn in by him in 2011.
Of the seven Trinamool MPs named in the Narada case, six were from Lok Sabha and Mukul Roy from Rajya Sabha. Mukul Roy is now with BJP and just elected MLA. There has been no action against him. In the sting tapes, he was not actually seen taking cash.
Of six Lok Sabha MPs, Sultan Ahmed has died. The CBI has sought to prosecute Suvendu Adhikari, Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee and Aparupa Poddar. The Lok Sabha Speaker has not granted sanction.
The four former ministers taped taking bribes were Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim, Sovan Chatterjee and Madan Mitra.
The MLA involved was Iqbal Ahmed. The police officer was SMH Mirza.