The ruling Trinamool Congress on Friday received a blow with the Supreme Court directing a CBI inquiry into the Sharada chit fund scam as 17 Lok Sabha seats are readying for the polls on Monday.
Majority of the 20 lakh investors who were duped in the multi-crore scam from which many TMC ministers and leaders allegedly benefited live in 13 of the 17 Lok Sabha constituencies.
Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, whose government had opposed the CBI inquiry tooth and nail, reacted angrily at a rally saying, “I no longer take any responsibility. Why the CBI, even if its father was appointed, I wouldn’t have a problem. It is now the CBI’s responsibility to return the funds to the people.
“People will now visit the leaders of the Congress, BJP and CPM demanding their money. The international angle and money laundering allegations are valid. The CBI has to arrest all the culprits and jail them with ropes tied around their waists,” she said sarcastically commenting on the apex court judgment.
As the entire Opposition in the state welcomed the CBI inquiry, the Congress demanded resignation of the Chief Minister.
State Congress media chief and nominee for Sreerampur Lok Sabha seat Abdul Mannan said, “We demand immediate resignation of the chief minister as her cabinet colleagues and party MPs are involved in the scam.
Anyone who tried to expose the leaders involved were put behind bars,” alleged Mannan, who in fact was the moving force behind the petition demanding a CBI probe into the scam before the SC.
TMC MP Kunal Ghosh, former CEO of Sharada group of companies and a former journalist, who is now in jail, was sent to the Rajya Sabha by Mamata but was ousted from the party for naming several ministers, including TMC national secretary Mukul Roy as beneficiaries of the scam and questioning the chief minister’s integrity.
The TMC did not pay any heed to the inquiry by the Enforcement Directorate which questioned two of its Rajya Sabha MPs and owner of vernacular dailies Srinjoy Bose and Ahmed Hassan, and party nominee for Balurghat Lok Sabha seat Arpita Ghosh, a dramatist and a former top boss of Sharada group.
However, with only two days left for the polls, the TMC leadership is shaky as the apex court has expressed displeasure over the inquiry being conducted by the state police.
Though all Opposition parties had been demanding a CBI inquiry since the scam exploded in April 2012 and Sharada group chairman Sudipto Sen was nabbed from Gulmarg in Kashmir, Mamata remained unfazed assuming it would not be an election issue at all.
However, a simple question at the BJP’s election rally on April 27 at Sreerampur by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi changed the entire poll campaign scenario.
“Mamataji, we appreciate your paintings. But who bought your painting for `1.86 crore and why? The people of Bengal want to know,” Modi had asked. A rattled TMC leadership in hurry attacked Modi personally but did not reply to his question.
They denied Mamata’s paintings were sold even in lakhs. A CPM leader and former state minister Goutam Deb waved documents before the media alleging the paintings were sold for more than `10 crore, according to the TMC’s own affidavit to the poll commission and Sudipto Sen was one of the buyers. Deb was summoned by the police next day for questioning.
Instead of replying to Modi’s questions, who even during his later public meetings in the state raised the Sharada scam scam issue, Mamata skirted the issue but attacked Modi personally calling him ‘one who engineers communal riots’.
The state finance minister Amit Mitra said, “We welcome the Supreme Court order although it has come just two days ahead of the last phase of the Lok Sabha polls.”
Though the apex court was critical of the state police probe, Mitra claimed it had appreciated the SIT’s investigation and demanded CBI inquiry into the other chit fund scams too.