Infuriated by the arrest of Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal by the CBI, Mamata Banerjee Friday lashed out at Narendra Modi, demanding that he step down as prime minister to pave the way for a "national government".
The Bengal chief minister denounced Pal's arrest, for his alleged role in the Rose Valley chit fund scam, as "political vendetta". Pal is the second leader of Mamata's party to be arrested after Madan Mitra. Another MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay has a standing CBI summons against him to appear for questioning in connection with the same scam.
According to a CBI official who asked not to be named because he wasn't authorised to speak with the media, Pal took benefits in cash and kind from the Rose Valley group even after leaving as the director of its film division two years ago.
His interrogators asked Pal why he took money from the group when he was only a "dormant director" of its film division, the officer said. "Pal remained silent," he added.
To another question, Pal replied that when became aware of the chit fund scam, he immediately left the company. He, however, admitted to helping Goutam Kundu, chairman of the Rose Valley group, after he told the MP his company was eager to invest in the film-making business.
The CBI official claimed that Pal has "links with some properties owned by the Rose Valley group in Bhubaneswar. Pal has been taken to the capital city of Odisha and will be produced before a court there on Saturday.
Payback for protest?
Trinamool leaders have alleged that the Modi regime was sending central agencies after them for being the most vocal opponents of demonetisation. Indeed, Mamata said as much Friday when she described the note ban as a "big scam".
Tearing into Modi's drive for a cashless economy, the Trinamool chief said that while his government opposed "China's policies and stands at various forums, it was blatantly promoting a Chinese company Paytm". (The e-wallet is partly owned by the Chinese firm Alibaba. And that it's a big beneficiary of the cashless drive is no secret.)
Raising fears about data safety and privacy, she charged that the Modi regime, by asking citizens to shift to cashless transactions through Paytm, was sharing our "internal information" with China and compromising our national security in the process.
And this, Mamata argued, disqualified Modi from holding the prime ministership.
"I do not have any problem with the BJP ruling at the Centre. But Modi must immediately step down as prime minister and a national government must be formed," she said, adding that she has already written to President Pranab Mukherjee explaining "the need for putting in place such a government as early as possible".
"Until a fresh Lok Sabha election is held, let there be a national government comprising of leaders from all political parties. I'm not saying that Trinamool leaders should be inducted into it," she continued. "But Modi must resign as an emergency situation has emerged in India after note ban."
Referring to Pal's arrest, Mamata alleged that the Modi regime was misusing the CBI to hound political opponents. "I am not afraid of the CBI. They can arrest any of our MPs. I have found a document which states that 7-8 leaders may be questioned by the CBI," she said. "But even if BJP gets all our MPs and MLA arrested, I won't be surprised as they are doing vendetta politics."
She claimed to have "evidence of BJP leaders involvement in the Rs 50,000 crore Pearl Group chit fund scam" and challenged the central government to investigate them.
"I am in power and I could arrest any of their leader. But that is not democracy," the chief minister said.
Mamata also alleged that BJP leaders Babul Supriyo and Rupa Ganguly have links with the Rose Valley group and have taken "benefits" from it. Her party has uploaded a video on Twitter of Supriyo thanking the Rose Valley group for its "cooperation".
Supriyo admitted he has taken favours from the group, including accommodation for the entire crew during a shoot for his film, but maintained that it doesn't mean he was involved in the scam.
Meanwhile, reacting to Pal's arrest, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, "This arrest was bound to happen. Trinamool's leaders are involved in the scam and they have cheated the people."
Abdul Mannan of the Congress said, "Now, one by one, all accused leaders of the ruling party will be arrested. It should have been done much earlier."