THE POLICE in West Bengal on Sunday placed under arrest the three Jharkhand Congress MLAs, who were detained in Howrah on Saturday, after allegedly recovering “almost Rs 50 lakh” from their vehicle, senior officers told The Indian Express.
The case has been transferred to the state’s CID, the officers said, even as the Congress party suspended the three MLAs, Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixel Kongari.
The arrests came on a day when another Congress MLA from Jharkhand, Kumar Jaimangal, lodged a police complaint in Ranchi, accusing the three arrested MLAs of “offering…Rs 10 crore” to “topple the present JMM and Congress government” allegedly at the behest of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Based on the complaint submitted by Jaimangal at the Argora Police Station in Ranchi, an FIR was registered against the arrested MLAs on charges of cheating, criminal conspiracy and sedition, and under the Prevention of Corruption Act and Representation of the People Act.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sarma dismissed the allegations and said the complaint was lodged “under duress”.
“It is strange that he (Jaimangal) says that he needs three MLAs to reach me, and to even come to Guwahati. He has known me for very long, so he does not need any middlemen to reach me. In the FIR, it seems like he doesn’t even know me. So he must have written it under duress,” he said.
Sarma said that “not just Jharkhand Congress MLAs” but all Congress MLAs, whether it is Karnataka or Maharashtra, are in touch with him on a “daily basis”. “Very, very senior leaders, topmost Congress leaders, are in touch with me for advice…whenever they are frustrated with their party, they come and they meet me,” he said.
In West Bengal, SP Howrah (Rural) Swati Bhangalia told The Indian Express that an investigation is underway. “This is a huge sum of unaccounted money. From where they got the cash is part of the investigation. For now, five people have been arrested because they failed to give a reasonable explanation for the cash,” she said.
According to police officers, a driver and an associate were also arrested along with the three Jharkhand MLAs after “prolonged questioning”. The five arrested were produced before a local court, which remanded them in police custody for 10 days.
“During investigation, we found that the MLAs had gone to Guwahati on Friday and returned on Saturday. However, on being asked the purpose of their visit, they were unable to give a proper explanation,” the sources said.
After being detained following a tipoff, the MLAs initially claimed that they were planning to buy sarees from Burrabazar, a popular market in Kolkata, for a tribal festival in Jharkhand, the sources said.
A case has been lodged at Panchla police station under IPC sections 420 (cheating), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 171E (bribery) and 34 (common intent), and sections 8/9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In Ranchi, the police complaint filed by Kumar Jaimangal, MLA from Bermo, accused his three arrested party colleagues of engaging in an act that was “unconstitutional, illegal, downright criminal”.
The MLA stated that he “would like to lodge a complaint regarding (an) offer of gratification being offered to me to topple the present government of JMM and Congress which came to power with a thumping majority”.
Jaimangal claimed in the complaint that the three MLAs “are calling me to Kolkata and offering me money and they are promising (Rs) 10 crores per MLA”.
#WATCH | Three MLAs of Congress from Jharkhand namely Irfan Ansari, MLA from Jamtara, Rajesh Kachhap, MLA from Khijri & Naman Bixal, MLA from Kolebira were nabbed by the police with huge amounts of cash. pic.twitter.com/VCH06cMr33
— ANI (@ANI) July 30, 2022
“Shri Irfan Ansari and Rajesh Kachchap want me to come to Kolkata and then take me to Guwahati where, according to (Ansari), he will make me meet Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma who will give me assurance of a definite ministerial berth apart from the money. Irfan Ansari has told me that he has already been promised (the) Health ministry in the new government. He also told me that he shall be reaching Kolkata yesterday afternoon (July 30),” the complaint, in English, stated.
“He (Ansari) said that he has already got money transferred to his persons and… I (should) reach Guwahati and promise it in front of Shri Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma. He assured me that Shri Sarma is doing it with the blessings of top shots of BJP political party sitting in Delhi,” it stated.
Police said a “zero FIR” has been filed in the case, which means it can be pursued in Kolkata.
Assam CM Sarma said: “I have known him (Jaimangal) for many years, and he meets me frequently. I know his father too, we have a whole lot of mutual friends. He is a trade union leader, and he even has a union in Margherita (Assam). I help him on his union matters.”
Claiming that Jaimangal visits Assam frequently, Sarma said he was not planning to “take any step” in response to the complaint. “He (Jaimangal) is young…and he is known to me…why get into it all? Why pick a fight,” Sarma said.
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Meanwhile, the political firestorm triggered by the arrest of the MLAs continued in West Bengal.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said, “The way the TMC is reacting it seems it was the TMC’s money which they were trying to siphon with the help of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress.”
TMC spokesperson and state general secretary Kunal Ghosh slammed Majumdar’s statement. “Majumdar is suffering from an identity crisis. About this money recovery, one person who can explain better is (Congress leader) Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury who appears to be an expert in cash recoveries,” Ghosh said in an apparent reference to Chowdhury’s earlier statements related to the recovery of cash in the SSC scam.
“Also, there is a possibility that the money was to be used to destabilise the Jharkhand government as well,” he said.