Calcutta, April 20: The Trinamul Congress has deployed Amit Mitra in the Saradha trenches, setting one finance minister upon another on a day party candidate Arpita Ghosh confirmed that she had been called by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to gather information.
Betraying the gravity the chief minister is according the controversy that has sprung back to life in the middle of the election season, Amit, the No. 2 in the cabinet and one of Mamata Banerjee’s closest aides, was sent out to the frontline today.
Amit focused his fusillade on the Union finance minister, P. Chidambaram, whose ministry is in charge of the ED that is threatening to prise open a can of worms after the arrest of Saradha boss Sudipta Sen’s wife and his son.
Amit questioned why the ED had not probed the role of Chidambaram’s wife Nalini Chidambaram whose name was mentioned in a letter attributed to Sudipta Sen and sent to the CBI before he was arrested. There had been suggestions that the letter was the brainchild of a Bengal politician and aimed at deflecting attention from the Trinamul leadership.
Amit also referred to allegations against Chidambaram’s son in the 2G scandal.
By evening, it appeared a division of labour had been put in place for media conferences and campaign meetings. The other Mitra — Madan Mitra — indirectly added the President to the list.
“The one who is at the topmost post in India at the moment, who was a Congress leader at the time… how many crores did people in his family, his son and daughter, take from Saradha?” Madan told an election meeting in Burdwan. Madan had earlier in the day compared Mamata with Sarada Ma.
Although Mamata addressed three meetings today, she did not refer to Saradha, unlike yesterday.
It is not that Amit, who is also the Trinamul national spokesperson, regularly refers to charges against wives and sons of Union ministers. That he has done so now reveals the sense of disquiet among the Trinamul leadership after the ED arrests.
Besides, the leadership chose to field Amit and Derek O’Brien, two “non-political” faces of the party, to answer questions on a controversy that has become extremely political.
That both Amit and O’Brien do not face any allegations of corruption may have prompted the leadership to depend on them rather than on political war horses who usually lead the charge in such situations but may carry risks in the current atmosphere. Since the controversy involved financial matters, O’Brien handed the mike to Amit.
Multiple events in Bengal through the day strengthened the perception that Saradha is grating on the nerves of Trinamul.
Arpita, Trinamul’s Balurghat candidate in the Lok Sabha elections and theatre personality close to Mamata, has been called by the ED.
Although she has been called to collect information, Arpita held a media conference before the news became public to condemn alleged defamatory statements by the Left and threatened to sue those who tried to malign her through the Saradha scandal.
Madan went to the extent of comparing Mamata with the revered Sarada Ma to pooh-pooh suggestions that the chief minister’s image had been undermined.
“The Opposition is spreading canards about me and chief minister Mamata Banerjee regarding the Saradha issue. Mamata Banerjee is not a symbol of a chit fund but a symbol of Sarada Ma. If it can be proved that I am involved in the Saradha scam, then I will rub my nose on the ground and resign from my post as minister,” Madan said in Burdwan, responding to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s taunt the other day.
The parade of protestations came a day after the chief minister replied to Rahul Gandhi’s criticism by saying “chorer maayer boro gola (a thief’s mother shouts the loudest)”.
Finance minister Amit, whose clean image may have prompted Mamata to field him, told a media conference at Trinamul Bhavan: “The investigation into the case (Saradha probe) should start from Page 10 of the letter (attributed to Sudipta Sen). Where was the ED when the state government got Sen arrested from Kashmir? They have appeared during election time. Just think about it. This is politically motivated.”
Page 10 of Sen’s purported letter states: “Madam Chidambaram requested me to help her for setting up a channel in Northeast in Guwahati and support her extending Rs. 42 crores to her company and Madam Chidambaram herself prepared the agreement wherein she is the sole arbitrator for if at all any dispute arises and requested me to financially support her immediately and also Madam Chidambaram fixed her consultancy and during period of one and half years on which account more than Rs. 1 (One) crores have been given to her. Most of the time she visited Calcutta with Manoranjana Sinh her airfare and Taj hotel bill have been paid by me, that is also a very big amount.”
At the media conference, Amit asked: “Senior advocates do not meet clients personally. Why did she break the practice? Why was Rs 1 crore paid? Only for drawing up an agreement? Why has the ED not probed this?”
Contacted, Sinh, a journalist who ran some TV channels in Assam, said tonight: “There was a string of emails from Sen saying they wanted to set up a channel with me. That is when I told them that I already had a licence for Frontier Television. We finally decided that Sen would invest Rs 42.5 crore in Frontier Television. When he wanted to have the contract drawn up, I told him that Nalini Chidambaram, who was already appearing for me before the Company Law Board with regard to a television dispute, could draw up the contract.
“After the contract had been drawn up, I and Sudipta Sen went to Chennai to Nalini Chidambaram’s office and signed the contract in her presence. She had never met Sen before that. There would have been no question of her asking him to invest in my channel as she didn’t even know Sen before that. All this is proved through the emails, all of which I have handed over to the investigating agencies. We had signed the contract in 2010. Sen paid a little over Rs 21 crore and did not pay the rest.”
Nalini Chidambaram could not be contacted.
Amit mentioned Chidambaram’s son. “On May 14, Parliament spent an entire day discussing the role of the Union finance minister’s son in the 2G scam and not development. Why has the ED not probed his role? People want to know,” Amit said.
The finance minister accused the Centre of sitting on the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, after the first bill passed by the Assembly was returned by the Centre.
“The bill was sent to the Centre in February for the President’s assent. Unless the bill is passed, the state government has no powers to deal with the sham companies…,” he said. Amit referred to Rahul Gandhi. “He (Rahul Gandhi) doesn’t know what he was talking about. He repeated what somebody whispered in his ears,”Amit said.