48 hours after BJP president Amit Shah accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of selling her paintings at inflated prices to chit fund companies in dubious deals, the Central Bureau of Investigation today questioned a close aide of the Trinamool Congress chief about the sale proceeds of the paintings and even sent a notice to her party's lawmaker Derek O'Brien.
Mamata Banerjee and her party have repeatedly said in the past that the money from the sale of her paintings was used to set up and expand operations of Jago Bangla, the mouthpiece newspaper of the party.
Ms Banerjee's aide, Manik Majumdar, who was questioned today, is an authorised signatory of the bank account of the newspaper. Derek O'Brien is the printer and publisher and Trinamool lawmaker and party general secretary Subrata Baxi is the editor.
Mr Baxi was summoned by the CBI and went to their offices in December. Derek O'Brien too was sent a notice but could not go to the CBI office as he was at that time in New Delhi attending parliament.
"If a fresh notice has been served, I will go to the CBI office once I am back in Kolkata after parliament," Mr O'Brien said in Delhi.
Hours after Mr Majumdar was questioned, Ms Banerjee said at the Kolkata Book Fair inaugural this evening, "I don't take money from parliament, I don't take money from the state government. I manage on money I get as royalty from my books."
Mr Majumdar was an assistant at Mamata Banerjee's office at her home for at least three decades and is known as one of her most loyal, low profile aides.
According to sources, the CBI had sent summons to Mr Majumdar a few weeks ago. He had written back saying he was over 70 years old and unwell and could not go to the CBI office. Earlier this week, the CBI wrote to him and said they would come and see him at his south Kolkata home today.
"Mr Majumdar was questioned in routine investigation into the chit fund case," CBI sources insisted when asked if the questioning had anything to do with the counter claims by Ms Banerjee and Mr Shah over the sale of her paintings. The CBI also clarified no raid was conducted at Mr Majumdar's residence.
But the questioning of Mr Majumdar and the notice to Mr O'Brien is raising eyebrows in political circles. Amit Shah had gone hammer and tongs at Mamata Banerjee at his rally at Kanthi in West Bengal on Tuesday.
"She is a very good painter. Do you know how many rupees her paintings sell for? Not 20,000 or 50,000. Chit fund owners bought her paintings for crores of rupees," he said.
"If she becomes chief minister, will she crack down on the chit fund wallas? No! 25 lakh people have lost their money. Give BJP just one chance and we will make the chitfundwalas vomit out every penny they stole from you. She can't do it. Chun chun kay we will find each of them and take action," he had said.
At an administrative meeting at Birbhum district yesterday, Ms Banerjee hit back.
"If I draw, I am a thief, if I write, I am thief! You party of thieves! They dare to question me! What audacity! I don't owe anyone anything. I have been in politics here since I was young, I have been beaten many times, my whole body is full of injuries. But I have never bowed my head before anyone," she said.
Her party has also sent a notice to Mr Shah, demanding a public apology, else the Trinamool would sue him for defamation.