The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) found itself in a tight corner on Sunday when the Kolkata Police arrested an old associate of Suvendu Adhikari, the leader of the opposition in the Bengal legislative assembly, in a job scam case and the leader and his youngest brother Soumendu Adhikari were booked in a case involving theft of relief material in East Midnapore district, the home turf of the Adhikari family.
This is the first time since the BJP emerged as a formidable force in Bengal and took the Trinamool Congress (TMC) head on in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the recent assembly polls that a prominent saffron camp leader has been booked in a criminal case. In both polls – the BJP wrested 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats but bagged only 77 of 294 assembly seats last month – it was the BJP that highlighted the alleged involvement of TMC leaders in chit fund scams and the Narada sting operation case during campaigns.
The saffron camp became the target of the TMC on May 17 when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested three TMC legislators, including two cabinet ministers, Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, and the former mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee, who left the TMC last year, in connection with the 2016 Narada sting operation case. TMC leaders accused the BJP of using the CBI to avenge its electoral defeat.
In the job scam case, accused Rakhal Bera, a businessman based in East Midnapore, was held for allegedly taking ₹2 lakh from a man in 2018-19 by promising a job in the irrigation department that Suvendu Adhikari headed at that time. Police officials said some more people were cheated and they were on the lookout for Chanchal Nandy, another accused who reportedly claimed to be an irrigation department employee.
Bera was remanded in police custody till June 12 by a Kolkata court. His lawyers told the media that he was a victim of “political vendetta” because of his proximity to Adhikari. “This is an attempt to malign the image of Suvendu Adhikari,” one of the lawyers said. Adhikari did not respond to queries from the media.
After serving in chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet, Suvendu Adhikari joined the BJP in December last year and defeated her at Nandigram in East Mindapore district in the recent state polls. The BJP elected him as leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
The TMC routed the opposition by winning 213 seats but Adhikari made news by defeating Banerjee by 1958 votes. His father Sishir Adhikari and the family’s second son, Dibyendu, are Lok Sabha MPs from East Midnapore.
In the theft case, an FIR was filed against Suvendu and Soumendu Adhikari for allegedly stealing tarpaulin from the Kanthi municipality office. The case has been filed against the brothers on the basis of a complaint lodged by Ratnadip Manna, a member of the municipal administrative board. Soumendu Adhikari was head of the civic body till he resigned and joined the BJP last year.
“We will fight the case in court. People will come to know the truth,” said Sishir Adhikari.
“On 29 May 2021 at 12:30 pm as per direction of Suvendu Adhikari and his brother and former municipal chief Soumendu Adhikari of Kanthi municipality, government tripal (tarpaulin) whose estimated value is around lakhs of rupees, was taken away from the municipality office godown by forcefully and illegally opening locks,” read the complaint submitted by Manna at Kanthi Police Station on June 1.
The complaint also said that the BJP leaders used central force personnel in the alleged theft.
Reacting to the allegation that Adhikari was being targeted for political reasons, TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said, “The arrest of our ministers by the CBI was a case of vendetta because they were held after the investigation was over and the agency was ready to file the charge sheet. In these cases, the complaints have just been registered. The arrest in the job scam case is part of the investigation.”
Reacting to the arrest in the job scam case, Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “I don’t know who is close to whom. If someone has committed a crime then he will be punished. However, the lodging of the case is an admission from the chief minister that corruption marked her government.”