By Nantoo Banerjee
The CBI investigations into a possible connection of Rujira Naroola Banerjee, wife of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Trinamool Party’s Lok Sabha member Abhishek Banerjee, with the ongoing coal mining scandal in the state and money trail may have more to do with the growing pre-poll feud between TMC and BJP in the state than with any substance. It may also be meant to divert the public attention from CBI’s failure to apprehend main suspects in the case, including Anup Majhi alias Lala and Vinay Mishra. Vinay Mishra is the TMC youth wing’s general secretary. The investigating agency had issued a look-out notice against both Majhi and Mishra. Majhi was recently interrogated by CBI.
The question is: why was Majhi allowed to disappear after that. CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided Majhi’s 20 offices in Kolkata and a few offices in Dhanbad, Purulia and Asansol. The agencies claimed that they found documents linking both Majhi and Mishra to an illegal coal empire worth Rs 20,000 crore. In their reported confession, the accused had allegedly stated that they dealt with a large number of politicians, both at district and top levels of political parties. “We are still checking their books of accounts, computer records. It is estimated that they paid a little over Rs 100-150 crore per month to some top politicians in Bengal and also family members of these politicians,” official sources told the media.
Incidentally, CBI’s past records of dealing with the country’s mining mafia is abysmally poor. The reason behind it may be the alleged involvement of some of the country’s political hubris, including state chief ministers belonging to both the ruling party at the centre and states and its opposition. Going by such records, there is little reason to believe that the questioning of Rujira Naroola Banerjee and her sister, Menaka Gambhir, who also lives in Kolkata, will yield any conclusive and legally tenable evidence in the massive illegal coal mining case
However, such pre-poll investigations and standard ‘media leaks’ may to have an impact on TMC’s poll campaign in the state. No one is guilty till proved in a court of law. Media reports alleging Rujira having foreign bank accounts with transaction records also may not mean much if she is a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) from Thailand or an Overseas Indian (OCI). Under both circumstances, she can have foreign bank accounts. Seemingly, her foreign status appears to be one grey area that may concern both Rujira and her husband more than her involvement in the coal case or alleged overseas bank transaction case, which are difficult to prove.
The union home ministry’s records had reportedly found discrepancies in Rujira’s PIO/OCI status. The ministry is headed by Amit Shah, who now faces a defamation suit in Kolkata filed by Abhishek Banerjee. Past records show that Shah is also not easy to be cowed down. Shah was arrested by CBI on murder charges in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case when P Chidambaram was the home minister. The same CBI, under Home Minister Amit Shah, sent Chidambaram and his son Karti in jail in alleged corruption and money laundering in the INX Media case.
According to reports, Bangkok-born Rujira carries a Thai passport. However, in several official documents, she had reportedly mentioned her nationality as Indian. The controversy started two years ago when customs officials in Kolkata airport allegedly detected a “significant quantity of gold” with her. The Calcutta high court in April 2019 granted relief to Rujira from the customs notice and observed that she is a Thai national holding an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card. The matter is still pending before the court. Following the incident, the Union home ministry issued a notice to Rujira for obtaining a Permanent Account Number (PAN) card without mentioning that she is a Thai citizen. The notice further pointed out discrepancies in her father’s name in different instances, one mentioning as Niphon Naroola (PIO card), a Thai citizen, and the other allegedly as Gursharan Singh Ahuja, resident of Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, in the certificate of marriage.
Rujira married Abhishek on February 24, 2012, months after Mamata took over as chief minister. It is not clear if the discrepancies have been sorted out. However, neither the West Bengal chief minister nor her nephew, Abhishek, has taken the latest CBI initiative against Rujira lightly. TMC has decided to go on the offensive. Abhishek had said he won’t be cowed down by BJP’s “pressure tactics”. While the CM, addressing a meeting in Kolkata on February 21, said her party won’t be intimidated with prison. Her utterances came just hours after CBI served notices to Rujira and Menaka.
Few really trust CBI when it comes to investigations against powerful political persons, including ministers, MPs and MLAs. Even former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi did some plain speaking at a CBI programme, pointing out that the agency had not been able to “meet the standards of judicial scrutiny” in a number of high-profile and politically sensitive cases. CJI Gogoi said the possibility of the agency being used as a “political instrument” remained ever-present given that superintendence and control of the agency, in large measure, are with the executive. In 2013, the Supreme Court had called it a “caged parrot” and “its master’s voice”.
CBI has performed very badly in hi-profile cases, involving top politicians and businessmen. In 2012, then vigilance commissioner R Srikumar lamented that an internal study by CBI had shown that “its conviction rate is a shocking 3.96 percent.” Many suffered jail and ignominies at the hands of CBI though it mostly failed in prosecution proceedings. Over the last 10 years, CBI had questioned several ministers and chief ministers, MPs and MLAs in connection with mining scams, ponzi scams and other financial scandals.
Many of them were arrested, jailed and chargesheeted. But, few were convicted for want of concrete evidence. This may have induced the West Bengal CM to go for an all-out offensive against pre-poll CBI investigations, maybe aiming to ultimately fix Abhishek Banerjee. ‘Bhaipo’ (the nephew) has been publicly accused of spearheading a ‘cut money’ culture in the state by the prime minister, union home minister, BJP’s national president and the party’s local leaders. However, Mamata’s populism is a big barrier to break. All are waiting to see CBI’s next move. (IPA Service)