Narada Scam: Decoding the Bribery Case

Introduction: The Sting Operation Case

A fresh political turmoil started in West Bengal after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested four All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) members regarding the Narada scam case on 17th May. This move came after the Governor of the state, Jagdeep Dhankar, provided his consent on 10th May to fill the charge sheet against the four accused and sanctioned prosecution against them.[1]The arrests have also been dubbed as “politically influential” in nature as the timing of arrests have been put in question, which came weeks after the result of the legislative elections in the state, which paved the way for the AITC to retain its power for consecutive third-term by winning the elections by a sweeping majority in what became a ‘two-party’ election over the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the party currently in power at the center.

Chronology of the Event

The issue pertaining to the arrests dates back to 2016, when the footage of the Narada sting operation was put up in public space. The operation was conducted in 2014 by Mathew Samuel, former managing director and one of the founders of Tehelka news magazine which is known for its works in investigative journalism.[2] He posed as an official of a ‘fictitious’ Chennai-based firm Impex Consultancy Solutions, in his sting operation. The sting operation captured various prominent politicians in the state accepting business bribery in the form of cash in exchange for doing ‘unofficial’ favor to Impex Consultancy Solutions. Initially, the operation was to be published in Tehalka, but Samuel quit the magazine after the operation was conducted. So instead, Samuel released a 52 hour-long footage for the public on, a website founded by him after a gap of nearly two years in 2016.[3]

The release of the footage quickly stirred controversy in the state. The opposition parties developed it into an election issue as it was released before the state’s legislative elections of 2016 in the state. However, AITC was able to retain its power with a two-thirds majority.[4]

Accused in the Case & the View of Parties: Politics in Play

In the footage, Samuel was first introduced to Kolkata’s Municipal Corporation deputy mayor, Iqbal Ahmed and S.M. Mirza, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. The footage also captured AITC’s Members of Parliament(MPs) Suvendu Adhikari, Aparupa Poddar, Mukul Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Bannerjee, Sougata Roy, and Sultan Ahmed accepting alleged bribes. The video also consisted of then state ministers Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra, and Firhad Hakim accepting cash from Samuel instead of providing ‘unlawful’ benefits to Impex Consultancy.

The CBI on 17th arrested State’s Cabinet Ministers Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra, and former minister Sovan Chatterjee.[5] Among other accused, Iqbal Ahmed died in 2017, and IPS Mirza has faced a suspension. Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari have switched party. They are now part of the BJP, with the former serving as Party’s national vice-president and later as Leader of Opposition in Bengal’s State assembly. The CBI has not found any evidence against Mukul Roy and Aparupa Poddar until now. The application to prosecute other accused MPs is pending with the Lok Sabha’s Speaker for over two years.[6]

When the videos came out, the AITC Supremo Mamata Banerjee had claimed the video footage to be doctored in nature and alleged a political conspiracy by BJP over it. She accused BJP of the misuse of central agencies in order to intimidate her party as an expansionist measure in the state. These claims were refuted by BJP, stating that the AITC member was caught red-handed and no conspiracy was involved in the matter.[7] The opposition parties fenced AITC in the 2016 state election over the scam, but The Mamata-led party easily floated through the charges to witness a comfortable win.

Legal Proceedings: Timeline of Investigation

Police Investigation and shift to CBI

The first legal measures regarding the tapes were taken by the State Government ordering the Kolkata Police to Probe into the matter. Mamata Banerjee ordered for probe, stating:

State Government will conduct a probe into the matter. I want the truth to come out”.[8]

Soon after the initiation of the probe, several Public-Interest Litigations were filed by BJP and Indian National Congress (INC) in the Calcutta High Court, demanding for an impartial investigation in the matter as the accused were holding influential positions in the State Government. On the other hand, the state of West Bengal and the accused demanded an investigation by a state investigating team. Later, the High Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe into the matter, raising doubts over the investigation’s impartiality, which Kolkata Police carried on.[9]The state appealed to Supreme Court against the decision but to no avail as Supreme Court assented to the High Court’s decision.

The state also initiated proceedings against Samuel on the charges of defamation (Section 500 of IPC), forgery to harm the reputation (Section 469 of IPC) and criminal conspiracy (Section 120(B) of IPC). However, the High court stayed the investigation, ruling that police cannot run a concurrent investigation along with a probe monitored by the court.[10]

IPS S.M. Mirza was also suspended after disciplinary action was taken against him by the state. The approval for legal proceedings against him is also pending with Central Government.[11]

CBI Investigation

CBI filed FIR against 12 AITC leaders on 17th May 2017, charging them for Section 120 B of Indian Penal Code (‘criminal conspiracy’), Section 7, 13(1)(d), and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act,1988. Subsequently, all the persons involved were summoned and were directed to aid the investigating agency.[12]Later, various leaders during the investigation accepted to have taken money from Samuel but denied it to have been used for any illegal purposes.[13],[14]

The CBI asked for assent from the Governor of the State and Lok Sabha Speaker for sanctioning prosecution against state ministers and members of Parliaments. On 9th May, Governor provided his assent, which led to the arrest of the four above-mentioned ministers. Whereas the Lok Sabha speaker is yet to provide assent to the request of CBI.[15]The Special CBI court provided bail to the four leaders and directed them to be under house arrest. A five Judge bench is hearing the matter of CBI’s plea to transfer the case from the special court to the High Court.[16]

Enforcement Directorate (ED) Investigation

The enforcement directorate is also probing into the matter and has filed a case for misappropriation of funds under the Anti-Corruption Act. The ED issued fresh notices to the accused in 2020, asking them to provide details of their bank statements and properties regarding the money laundering aspect of the case. However, the ED is having the same fate as CBI claiming to be waiting for the Speaker’s nod to file a charge.[17]

Lok Sabha Ethics Committee

A Lok Sabha ethics committee was also formed as the sting involved several members of Parliament. However, the committee has sat for only once since its inception.[18]

CBI Credibility: A Caged Parrot?

During the infamous Coalgate Scam hearing, Justice R.M. Lodha comments on the CBI, India’s premier investigating agency, as a “caged parrot” who ”speaks its master’s voice”. Since then, many of the acts of CBI in the 7 years after the comment put the agency in question and makes the condition look worse.[19]

In the instant case, the FIR was registered by CBI back in 2017 when the Calcutta High Court ordered for CBI inquiry. However, the matter remained in oblivion for over three years, and the officers woke from their sleep and made arrests recently.

In the gap, much water has flown over the dam. The government completed its second term and against contested elections with ferocity. However, in this election, the BJP fought with all its might using all the weapons in its armory but failed to convert the efforts into success. It was a huge setback for the party and was believed by many to be the reason for re-igniting the investigation.

For a long, the credibility of CBI has hit new lows. Many instances can be seen as an example when CBI looked like a ‘government’s tool’ and nothing more.

There are a host of political leaders from different political parties who are facing a charge from the CBI. During the Modi Government’s first run, the central agencies raided Arvind Kejriwal’s house and older cases against the SP leader and BSP chief Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, respectively, were re-opened. Congress veteran, P. Chidambaram has also been the target of CBI, who is alleged to have been involved in INX Media fraud. Questions have been put upon the agency for extending Chidambaram’s custody several times, and he was accused of the action as the agency was devoid of any evidence against him. Many more instances of agency’s action motivated by political rivalry can be witnessed. [20]

The agency is also alleged for conducting selective probes as the agency has shown its inactiveness in taking actions against some of the BJP leaders. Karnataka Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa was accused of land and mining scams, but the CBI could not gather evidence against him. The newly incumbent Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, was accused in Louis Berger Case when he was a part of congress. The probe faded when Sarma defected from Congress and joined BJP. More examples are present to witness the selective probing of the central agency. In the instant (Narada) Case, Mukul Roy defected from AITC and joined BJP soon after ED summoned him. [21]

The conduct of CBI has put it under the scanner, and the trust in India’s Premier investigating agency has been on a downhill. The opposition has termed the agency as just a tool of government used for performing acts that please the government. However, despite the criticism faced by CBI, it remains to be the most trusted agency in the country.

Conclusion: What is Next?

The Narada Sting operation case shows how the people in the government are driven towards money, putting their credibility at stake. The matter, for now, is in the Calcutta High Court and its decision will further pave the way for the proceedings in a case. This case is the prime showcase of the dark secrets of dealings that happens behind the closed door, which the common tax-payer is unaware of. This case also shows the power of Media, which seems to have stooped to its political masters in the present time.


  17. Supra 11.
  18. Supra 1.

This article is authored by Kanishk Joshi, Student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala

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