Abhishek, who is CM Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, has been at the epicentre of a no-holds-barred pre-poll battle between Trinamool and BJP, laced with the latter’s “bhatija” barbs and the Bengal party’s “outsider” retorts.
Attacking the Centre, Mamata later said, “Please do not try to intimidate us with your threats and fear of jail”.
A couple of hours after the CBI visited his home, Abhishek tweeted, “We have full faith in the law of the land. However, if they think they can use these ploys to intimidate us, they are mistaken. We are not the ones who would ever be cowed down.”
Four officers from the CBI’s anti-corruption branch had turned up at Shantiniketan, Abhishek’s home on Harish Mukherjee Street, at 2pm with a notice for his wife Rujira Banerjee Naroola under Section 160 of the CrPC (power to order attendance of witnesses). CBI additional superintendent Umesh Kumar, the investigating officer, had asked Rujira to be at home at 3pm to “answer certain questions relating to the (coal scam) case”.
Since she wasn’t home, the officers departed around 20 minutes later, leaving behind a contact number. “Till late evening, there was no communication from her,” said an officer.
Chief minister Mamata made no mention of the case, but attacked the Centre while speaking at an event. “There is no reason for fear. Today, I pledge before you, I will never be intimidated by threats as long as I am alive. It’s not easy to break our spine.”
A Trinamool source termed BJP’s alleged intimidatory tactics predictable. “All of BJP’s allies have left them. So, their only loyal allies are the CBI and the ED. We will fight it out. We are not scared. We believe people will give a fitting reply at the elections,” he said.
The CBI had filed its FIR in the coal mining case on November 27, 2020, based on “source information”. The FIR mentions six accused, including prime suspect Anup Maji, five officials of a nationalised mining company and several others from the CISF, railways and various departments.
On February 2, Trinamool-turned-BJP functionary Suvendu Adhikari had referred to “Thailand accounts” while levelling allegations about “Madam Naroola” being part of the scam.
Four days later, Abhishek responded to those allegations on Adhikari’s home turf Contai, saying BJP was targeting his wife because they are “unable to fight me”.
“Contrary to what is being said, my wife has a bank account in Kolkata,” he said.
CBI sources said on Sunday that they wanted to question Rujira on certain foreign remittances in some Thailand accounts.
“The agency is probing a case,” said Bengal BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya. “If they don’t probe, it is alleged that there is an understanding. If they probe, it is ‘political victimisation’. BJP is a political party and we are fighting politically. We have nothing to comment on these raids.”
The party’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said, “If someone has committed any wrong, the law will take its course. Those who are culprits should be punished. No one should try to politicise the matter.”
As the battle hots up, BJP is likely to appeal the February 19 court summons to Shah to appear for a hearing on Monday.
In an interim order on February 12, the Calcutta high court had allowed the CBI to probe the coal scam case anywhere in Bengal without seeking the state’s consent to probe beyond railway zones. The HC will hear the case again on April 27 to decide whether the agency can probe cases in Bengal despite the state withdrawing “general consent” in 2018.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Rujira and her sister Menka would move court. Their legal counsel, Sanjay Basu, was unavailable for comment. The sisters had previously moved the Calcutta high court against summons issued to them by the customs department in another case. After they got a reprieve, the department challenged the order in a division bench.