TMC bribe sting' rocks Parliament, Opposition calls leaders chor'

TMC has, however, denied bribery charges and claimed the videos were doctored'.

New Delhi/Kolkata: Ahead of the West Bengal Assembly polls, a sting operation showing leaders of ruling Trinamool Congress taking bribes, rocked the Parliament on Tuesday with Opposition demanding stern action against the leaders.

Congress and Left leaders demanded high-level probe into the matter. CPI(M) lawmaker Mohammed Salim was seen shouting that TMC lawmakers are ‘chor’.

"We are ashamed that we are sitting with such people. They should drown in shame. The dignity of Parliament has been compromised by their conduct," Mohd Salim said, demanding that a committee be formed to probe the charges.

TMC led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been put in a tight corner with its ministers and MPs caught in a sting operation for allegedly accepting bribes from a fictitious import-export company. The TMC has, however, denied the charge and claimed the videos were “doctored”.

Read: ‘Bribe sting’ rocks TMC, party says rivals’ ‘smear’

A news portal’s “sting” operation alleged that three West Bengal ministers, some MPs and MLAs had allegedly accepted bribes from a fictitious import-export company. The news portal, Narada News, released the tape of the operation, which it claimed to have conducted over the last two years at a news conference in New Delhi on Monday.

The tape purportedly shows the ministers and legislators taking cash, said to be around Rs 5 lakhs each, in return for favours such as lobbying for a fictitious company “Impex Consultancy”. A journalist from the portal claimed to be a representative of the company to seek help from them.

The TMC was quick to dismiss the tapes as “doctored” and said the “dirty tricks departments” of its political rivals were behind the “smear campaign”. However, the BJP demanded the resignation of Mamata Banerjee and the CPI(M) sought President’s Rule in the state in the wake of the news portal’s “sting” operation.

In a video statement, Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien said the party had seen the video which he described as a “smear” campaign against it. He threatened to sue the portal for defamation. “We are completely transparent. (Chief minister) Mamatadi’s credentials are impeccable. The people of Bengal know. We are busy with elections now. So whoever has concocted this smear campaign, please go ahead and concoct your smear campaign or your doctored video,” he said.

“Where these videos came from, who doctored these videos ... will now be put to (test) in a defamation case. We are not bothered. This is a smear campaign. Our political opponents know they cannot defeat us politically, so they create a cheap tricks department, a dirty tricks department,” said Mr O’Brien.

Journalist Mathew Samuel of the news portal, who led the team that conducted the “sting”, termed the release of the video before the Assembly polls as a “mere coincidence”. He said he had no political backing.

The video, which triggered a major political storm in poll-bound West Bengal, could not have surfaced at a worse time for the ruling TMC. BJP national secretary Siddharth Nath Singh showed the 24-minute-long video at the party office in Kolkata only hours before the arrival of the full bench of the Election Commission in the city.

The video showed Trinamool Congress vice-president Mukul Roy, MPs Saugata Roy, Sultan Ahmed, Suvendu Adhikari, Prasun Banerjee and Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, state ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Iqbal Ahmed, Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, former state transport minister and Saradha scam accused Madan Mitra, former Burdwan SP H.M.S. Mirza and other TMC leaders accepting wads of currency notes from a fake consulting firm to allow it to set up a company in West Bengal.

“Chief minister Mamata Banerjee must step down immediately. She has no business to remain in the post even for few days before the election. Her party and leaders are neck-deep in corruption and we are writing a letter to the director of the CBI asking the agency to investigate the matter,” Singh said.

He claimed that the TMC-led West Bengal government had broken all records in corruption. The video showed the TMC leaders and the police officer accepting bribes of around Rs 73 lakhs from the fake consultancy firm. Around Rs 4 lakhs to Rs 5 lakhs was used in each transaction, with the exception of Roy, who was offered Rs 20 lakhs. However, Roy could not be seen taking any money.

Responding to the members, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said, "The prestige of Parliament is at stake. We have to establish the truth. Simply saying it is a conspiracy is not enough and will not satisfy the public."

Either the government can carry out an inquiry or the Speaker can order an inquiry, he said. Naidu's response came after members of different political parties demanded a probe.

TMC members sat silently for most of the time as Salim was followed Ahluwalia and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in attacking them, but angry exchange of words took place when TMC leader Saugata Roy, one of the MPs allegedly shown in the sting, put up his party's defence.

TMC members and some from Congress and the Left were heard trading charges against each other, which were expunged by the Speaker.

"It is an embarrassment for our Parliament and democratic system. Five MPs have been shown accepting wads of money. The matter must be referred to the ethics committee," Ahluwalia said as he recalled that several members were expelled by the

House after they were caught "being influenced" in similar sting operations in 2005-06.

"This is related to the dignity of the House. They (TMC MPs) have been caught. It must be probed," Chowdhury said.

Saugata Roy wondered under what rule Speaker Sumitra Mahajan allowed members to raise the issue and said in anguish that "I had to live to see this day. ... It (sting) is part of political conspiracy before the West Bengal elections where CPI-M, Congress and BJP are destined to lose."

In an apparent criticism of Roy's objections to the issue being raised in the House, Naidu said members should not give an impression to the public that "we are hiding under some rule or pretext."

It may not be clear what is true or false but something is being seen and the prestige of Parliament is at stake, the Minister said, adding that aggrieved members can take action against the news portal if they feel the sting can turn out to be "falsehood".

He said that parliamentarians often faced criticism from the people as he pitched for a probe to "dispel the wrong impressions."

Naidu urged the Chair to take a call on this, reiterating that the government can order a probe or the Speaker can look into the matter.

In the Rajya Sabha, Left parties and BJP repeatedly tried to raise the issue of the sting operation, but were disallowed by Deputy Chairman P J Kurien.

Tapan Kumar Sen (CPI-M) wanted a House Committee to inquire into the issue but Kurien asked him to give notice before raising allegations.

"You are a senior member of House. Have you given a notice? Without notice I am not allowing any allegation against anyone," Kurien said.

As BJP members too joined to raise the issue, he said, "I have made it very clear. Without a proper notice, I am not going to allow any allegation."

He then went on to expunge the allegations made by members. "If it is a serious matter, why don’t you give notice," the Deputy Chairman said.

As he tried to restore order in the House, BJP members were on their feet trying to raise the issue and Kurien who was on his feet asked Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to rein in his party members.

"Chair cannot be cowed down by this kind of behaviour," he said. "Treasury benches should not behave like this. Treasury benches should cooperate with chair."

Kurien said he was not saying the matter should not be discussed. "I am saying give notice so that it can be considered. I will consider giving time (for discussion)."

( Source : Deccan Chronicle with agency inputs )
Next Story