|Mathew Samuel in Calcutta Press Club on Friday. Pic: Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya|
TT, Calcutta, April 22: The money handed over to several Trinamul leaders seen on the Narada tapes was “bribe, bribe, bribe”, the website’s chief editor said here today.
The leaders caught on camera seemed only interested in the money and did not even make an attempt to verify his credentials, Mathew Samuel, the Narada News chief editor who had carried out the sting, added.
So rattled was Trinamul by the unequivocal claim that it moved the Election Commission against a public meeting that Samuel was scheduled to address in North 24-Parganas. Police denied permission for the meeting, probably the first time in recent memory that a speech by a journalist has been deemed inimical to peace and tranquillity before it was delivered.
“They did not try to find out who I am, where I came from… whether I was from the ISI or the IS (Islamic State)…. They were only concerned about my pocket; they were interested just in receiving the money,” Samuel told a media conference in the city.
Six Trinamul leaders whose images feature on the Narada tapes are contesting the Assembly elections while seven others are members of Parliament.
Samuel also debunked what appeared an “afterthought” theory floated by Trinamul. After initially claiming the tapes were doctored, some Trinamul leaders had suggested the wads of cash seen on the footage may have been political donations, not bribes.
Samuel was categorical today. “What I had offered them was not donation. It was bribe, bribe, bribe…. In the conversations, it is clear why they were taking the money,” he added.
Trinamul MP and advocate Kalyan Banerjee had floated the “donation” theory that was later picked up by Mamata in her attempt to defend her lieutenants.
“Did they give me any receipt? Did they submit any documents to the Election Commission about the donation received?” Samuel asked today.
Under the Election Commission’s rules, a political party has to declare any donation received above Rs 20,000, along with the name of the donors. Also, Rs 20,000 is the upper limit for receiving donations in cash.
On the Narada footage, the images resembling Trinamul MPs, MLAs and ministers are seen either taking cash running into lakhs in person or directing the company representative to people who would receive the money. In the 2014 accounts submitted by Trinamul, there is no mention of donations from Impex Consultancy, the fictitious firm, although the cash shown is far in excess of the ceiling of Rs 20,000.
Such has been the impact of the Narada footage that even a seasoned politician like the chief minister has been shifting her stand to minimise the damage. After initially terming the tapes “bhejal (adulterated)”, Mamata had said “had it been known earlier”, she might have changed the candidates.
Soon after, the chief minister changed her tune and said Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, another candidate, was successful enough in her career as a doctor to buy 50 Naradas.
Samuel referred to this element. “The constant shift in the stand proves that they are guilty…. Doctored tapes, conspiracy, later they talked about donation. Now she says she would have changed the candidates.”
The Trinamul camp betrayed its jitters today by knocking on the doors of the Election Commission with a plea to disallow the public meeting in North 24-Parganas where Samuel was scheduled to be one of the speakers.
The alacrity with which Trinamul leaders in the district managed to get police to deny permission for the event suggested the party was wary of the impact of the sting on voters in the area, which will go to the polls on April 25.
Later in the day, Trinamul sent a letter to the Election Commission with a complaint against the programme scheduled for this evening. Sources in the Election Commission here said the letter had been forwarded to Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi.
The intervention in New Barrackpore came close on the heels of an attempt by the police to stop a video installation on the flyover collapse at the Academy of Fine Arts.
Trinamul secretary-general Partha Chatterjee alleged that the Opposition was trying to blackmail the ruling party in the poll season. “Saying all these things when the elections are on is blackmailing…. The matter is sub judice as the high court has ordered a probe,” Chatterjee said.
By that logic, some of the biggest issues of the 2014 general election — the 2G telecom scandal and the coal block allocation — could not have been touched upon by the then Opposition as the matters are still in court.
Samuel clarified that he did not “target” any of the Trinamul leaders but was led to them. “I met some booth-level leaders. One of them was called Tiger and he took me to Iqbal Ahmad (the Trinamul candidate from Khanakul in Hooghly) and S.M.H. Meerza (a police officer). Not that I went to them,” he said.