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Saradha scam: Bengal minister Madan Mitra arrested, Mamata says BJP’s vendetta

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Kolkata, Dec 12 (IANS) In a huge blow to West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, the CBI Friday arrested Transport and Sports Minister Madan Mitra — a close associate of Mamata Banerjee — for his alleged role in the multi-crore-rupee Saradha chit fund scam. The chief minister lashed out at the BJP, terming the arrest “political vendetta”.

An angry Trinamool chief Banerjee also dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take her into custody.

But a buoyant opposition lost no time in going on the offensive, demanding her resignation and grilling by the CBI in connection with the scandal.

Trinamool Congress workers stage a demonstration against the arrest of party leader and West Bengal Transport Minister Madan Mitra outside CBI office in KolkataA Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) spokesperson said Mitra was arrested on “prima facie evidence of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation as well as deriving undue financial benefits from the Saradha group”.

The 57-year-old minister was nabbed by the probe agency after hours of grilling spread over two sessions by CBI sleuths during the day at its office here.

The minister, who had headed the Saradha employees’ union but has repeatedly denied allegations of his involvement in the scam, participated in several Saradha programmes and heaped praises on group chairman Sudipto Sen for creating job opportunities for thousands of people and assured help if the group faced any difficulties.

“Sudipto Sen knows how to make an ocean out of droplets. Work well, we are with you,” Mitra was captured on tape saying at one such programme.

The minister, known for his organisational ability and grassroots contacts, is one on whom Banerjee has reposed much faith since coming to power in Bengal three and a half years back.

He not only handles two crucial ministerial portfolios, but also plays a key role in mobilising masses at party programmes and rallies in Kolkata and neighbouring South 24 Parganas.

Amid months of speculation that he could be in trouble, especially after the agency recorded the statement of his former confidential assistant Bapi Karim, Mitra was evading CBI questioning for some time citing health grounds.

The minister was even hospitalised when he complained of illness. He first got admitted in a nursing home and later shifted to the government-run SSKM Hospital where he was said to have complained of a “panic attack”.

Upon his discharge from the hospital Nov 26, Mitra approached the CBI and expressed his desire to appear for questioning.

Six days back, Mitra admitted he was “tense” about facing the grilling.

He is the fourth Trinamool leader to be arrested after the scam came to light last year.

Suspended Trinamool leader and Rajya Sabha member Kunal Ghosh was arrested by police in November last year, before the CBI nabbed parliamentarian Srinjoy Bose and party functionary Rajat Majumdar.

Ghosh had named many party colleagues, including Mitra, in a “tell-all” video after his arrest. He gave details of how and what relations they shared with Sen and his company and asserted they can help the investigators.

Prior to his arrest and even afterwards, Ghosh has time and again called for Mitra’s questioning, claiming he knew how Sen, a small-time businessman, “made a meteoric rise”.

A fuming Banerjee accused the BJP of “misusing power” ,and charged the CBI with “acting as per a sequence” of arrests given by a BJP leader during a rally here a few days ago.

“He (Mitra) was called as a witness. Within few hours he was arrested. Isn’t this political vendetta? What the CBI has done is wrong. It is illegal, unconstitutional,” she said.

“The situation in India is like Emergency now. We condemn all this. I will go to SSKM Hospital to meet Madan Mitra. I dare Narendra Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah to arrest me. This is an open challenge,” she said.

The opposition hit out at Banerjee.

While state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury demanded Banerjee step down as chief minister, BJP national secretary S.N. Singh claimed the CBI probe will eventually lead to the chief minister’s doors.

Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Surjya Kanata Mishra demanded Banerjee be grilled.

The CBI also arrested scam kingpin Sudipto Sen’s legal advisor Naresh Balodia.

“The CBI also arrested Naresh Balodia, legal advisor to Sudipto Sen and Saradha group, on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and diversion of funds in the same case,” CBI spokesperson Kanchan Prasad added.

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