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Sunday, August 01, 2021

BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari at SG house, sets off firestorm — and raises questions

Tushar Mehta confirmed that Adhikari had visited his residence on Thursday, but denied that he had a “meeting” with the BJP leader.

Written by Apurva Vishwanath | New Delhi |
Updated: July 3, 2021 9:31:15 am
BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari at SG house, sets off firestorm — and raises questionsSuvendu Adhikari and Tushar Mehta

Three Trinamool Congress MPs wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, asking that Tushar Mehta be removed as Solicitor General of India for having allegedly met BJP MP Suvendu Adhikari, who is under investigation by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, at his residence this week.

That the country’s second-highest law officer granted an “audience” to Adhikari “not only reeks of impropriety but also raises the question of integrity and taints the post occupied by the Learned Solicitor General,” the MPs, Derek O’Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, and Mahua Moitra, wrote.

Mehta confirmed that Adhikari had visited his residence on Thursday, but denied that he had a “meeting” with the BJP leader.

“Shri Suvendu Adhikari did come to my residence cum office yesterday at around 3 pm, unannounced,” the SG said in a statement issued on Friday.

“Since I was already in a pre-scheduled meeting in my chamber, my staff requested him to sit in the waiting room of my office building and offered him a cup of tea. When my meeting was over and thereafter my PPS informed me about his arrival, I requested my PPS to convey Mr Adhikari my inability to meet him and apologise as he had to wait,” Mehta said.

“Mr Adhikari thanked my PPS and left without insisting to meet me. The question of my meeting with Mr Adhikari therefore did not arise,” he added.

In Kolkata, Adhikari said: “The news (that I met Mehta) is not true. I went to meet Mehta, but he did not meet me.”

The TMC MPs wrote that according to “various news reports containing videos”, Adhikari had “meetings with Sri Tushar Mehta, Learned Solicitor General of India, at his residence”. The “meeting” between Adhikari and Mehta “curiously took place subsequent to a meeting of…Adhikari with the Hon’ble Home Minister Sri Amit Shah”, the TMC MPs said.

Adhikari is “accused in various criminal cases of cheating, illegal gratification, and bribery etc.”, the MPs said.

“The Solicitor General of India is the second-highest law officer of the Country after the Attorney General of India and advises the Government of India and its various organs in crucial legal matters such as Narada (sting) and Saradha (chit fund scam) cases,” the TMC letter said.

“Such meeting between an accused in grave offences, with the Learned Solicitor General who is advising such investigating agencies by whom the said accused is being investigated, is in direct conflict of interest with the statutory duties of the Learned Solicitor General of India,” it said.

“We have, therefore, reasons to believe that such a meeting has been organised to influence the outcome of matters where Suvendu Adhikari is an accused, using the high offices of the Learned Solicitor General,” the MPs wrote to the Prime Minister.

“In order to avoid any doubt in the mind of the public at large, as to the integrity and neutrality of the office of the Learned Solicitor General of India, we approach you to initiate necessary steps for removal of Sri Tushar Mehta from the post of the Solicitor General of India,” they said.

Adhikari — the Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly who switched from TMC to BJP before the elections — is a key accused in the Narada case, in which Mehta is representing the CBI. The agency’s request seeking sanction to prosecute Adhikari is pending with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla.

Adhikari was a TMC Lok Sabha MP in 2014 when the Narada sting operation, in which leaders of the party were seen on camera accepting or negotiating cash deliveries to allegedly favour a fictitious company, was recorded. The CBI has moved against several TMC leaders accused in the case.

Accusations of associations such as the one between Mehta and Adhikari have led to resignations and forfeiture of authority in the past.

In 2014, the then newly elected BJP-led government had objected to the elevation of former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium as a judge of the Supreme Court on the basis of a CBI report that said he had met the lawyer who held the brief for 2G scam accused and former Telecom Minister A Raja in his office while he was the SG in 2011.

The government had asked CBI to verify earlier news reports, although the Intelligence Bureau had given clearance to the previous government for Subramanium’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Subramanium had denied the allegations and clarified that he “never interacted with any lawyer” in that case. However, as the government put on hold his appointment as SC judge, Subramanium withdrew his candidature.

Earlier in 2013, in the coal scam case, then CBI director Ranjit Sinha had said in an affidavit before the Supreme Court that the agency’s draft status report was shared with bureaucrats and the political executive. The controversy had invited the SC’s infamous description of the CBI as a “caged parrot”, and eventually led to the resignation of then Law Minister Ashwani Kumar.

The BJP, which was then in opposition, had demanded Kumar’s resignation for “interfering” with the CBI’s investigation.

Again, in 1992, then Attorney General G Ramaswamy had to resign after a Joint Parliamentary Committee that was looking into the Harshad Mehta scam disclosed that C Northrop, then chief of Standard Chartered Bank, had paid a visit to Ramaswamy. Although Ramaswamy had dismissed the allegations and said that Northop’s visit was a “courtesy call”, he had resigned within a few days.

In Kolkata, TMC Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee demanded on Friday that the SG should release CCTV footage from his home for the entire duration of Adhikari’s stay.

“Mr Mehta’s efforts to dismiss speculations regarding his clandestine meeting with @SuvenduWB can only be valuable if he makes all CCTV footage public until Mr Adhikari was in his residence. Moreover, was Mr Adhikari present in the SG’s residence without prior appointment?” Banerjee tweeted.

Also, he said in another tweet, “Reports state that Mr Adhikari entered Hon’ble SG’s residence in the presence of a cavalcade of officers and stayed there for nearly 30 minutes. Does that imply that a meeting was indeed due? As the episode gets murkier, one can only hope that the truth shall surface.”

With ENS, Kolkata, New Delhi

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