Kolkata: A court here Saturday sent West Bengal Transport and Sports Minister Madan Mitra - arrested in connection with the multi-crore rupee Saradha scam - to CBI custody till Dec 16, even as ruling Trinamool Congress activists violently protested on the roads.
In a previously unannounced step, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself hit the streets showing solidarity with her confidant, whose arrest could have adverse impact on her government and party by demoralising the Trinamool rank and file amid speculation that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was moving to net bigger fish in the scandal.
Launching a vitriolic attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party and the CBI, Banerjee called for winding up the agency, questioning its credibility and terming it as "his master's voice". She also wondered if Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be arrested for the Sahara scandal as he has been photographed with the Sahara chief now behind bars.
Her party took out two huge rallies in central Kolkata protesting against Mitra's arrest, but the political storm triggered by Mitra's arrest also landed Banerjee at the receiving end of the opposition ire, as the Left Front took out a huge rally demanding the CBI interrogate the chief minister "who knows everything about the scandal".
Arrested Friday by the CBI for "prima facie evidence of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation as well as deriving undue financial benefits from the Saradha group", Mitra was presented before acting Chief Judicial Magistrate (Alipore) Kinshuk Sadhukhan amid heavy deployment of police personnel as hundreds of Trinamool supporters gathered around the court premises shouting anti CBI slogans.
There was also a brief pandemonium inside the court after Mitra's counsels urged the judge to evict media persons covering the case. But the court refused to relent. A few of Trinamool supporters had also come inside the court trying to remove the journalists but were prevented from doing so by police.
Pressing for his bail, Mitra's counsel contended the arrest was illegal as the minister was summoned by the CBI as a witness.
"Having summoned him as a witness, the CBI acted in an arbitrary and whimsical fashion to arrest Mitra. They did not even properly record his statement and after asking only one or two questions they arrested him," argued defence counsel Ashok Mukherjee.
Even as a battery of lawyers were dishing out arguments in favour of his bail , Mitra sought the court's permission to say something.
Giving details about his interrogation at the CBI office here Friday, Mitra told the court that "everything was going fine" and a senior official told him that he could go home after his statement was recorded.
"Everything was going fine and later joint director Rajiv Singh offered me tea. Singh said my statement is being recorded and once it is done, I may go home.
"I was having my tea when suddenly an officer came to me and said we have got a call from Delhi we will have to arrest you," said Mitra.
Opposing Mitra's bail plea, CBI counsel P.S. Dutta said the interrogation of the accused was essential to unravel the larger conspiracy concerning the scam. Seeking CBI custody of the accused for seven days, he submitted four volumes of the case diary in support.
After going through the case diary and the arguments, the CJM rejected the bail plea and the sent Mitra to CBI custody.
The court also remanded the Saradha Group chief Sudipta Sen's legal advisor Naresh Bhalodia, who too was arrested with Mitra, to CBI custody till Dec 16.
Chaos ensued when Mitra was being taken out of the court in a police van as hundreds of Trinamool supporters tried to block the vehicle and even attempted to jump on it. Police, however, managed to whisk him away.
At a rally where sportspersons were present, Banerjee said: "BJP knows they cannot fight TMC politically. They are using CBI to counter us. Common people have hit the streets today to protest against the politics of vendetta by BJP."
In an apparent indication of the pressure the Trinamool is facing after the arrest, Banerjee said: "Time does not wait for anyone. We have to act as per the need of the hour."
Issuing an warning to the BJP-led central government, Banerjee said: "I must tell those who are in power - Stay within your limits or you will face the music."
Another big rally was organised by the chief minister's brother Karthik Banerjee, while Trinamool supporters blocked roads, forcibly closed shops and brought out rallies across the state.