Kolkata: Fuming after the arrest of her Trinamool Congress collegue Madan Mitra by the CBI, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called for a protest rally on Saturday.
The Bengal Transport and Sports Minister's arrest in the multi-crore-rupee Saradha chit fund scam was termed as BJP's "political vendetta" by the CM who announced that her party would hold a protest rally where sportspersons will be present.
"Sportspersons will protest. Because Madan Mitra has run the sports department really well," she said and dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take her into custody.
The rally will be organised at 1 PM at the base of the statue of legendary footballer Gostho Pal in central Kolkata's Maidan area.
On the other hand, the opposition Left Front has decided to hold a rally at 2.30 PM from the feet of the Lenin statue to Moulali to press for a three-point charter of demands including the grilling of Banerjee by the CBI in relation to the scam.
"Banerjee knows everything about the scandal, but she tried to brush it under the carpet with the Special Investigation Team of the state police probing the scam," said Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretariat member Sujon Chakraborty.
"We also demand the arrest of all culprits, and all arrangements made to return the money to those who lost their savings by parking their hard-earned money in ponzi schemes," he said. Similar protests will be held across the state, he added.
A buoyant opposition lost no time in going on the offensive, demanding her resignation and grilling by the CBI in connection with the scandal.
A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) spokesperson said Mitra was arrested on "prima facie evidence of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation as well as deriving undue financial benefits from the Saradha group".
The 57-year-old minister was nabbed by the probe agency after hours of grilling spread over two sessions by CBI sleuths during the day at its office here.
The minister, who had headed the Saradha employees' union but has repeatedly denied allegations of his involvement in the scam, participated in several Saradha programmes and heaped praises on group chairman Sudipto Sen for creating job opportunities for thousands of people and assured help if the group faced any difficulties.
"Sudipto Sen knows how to make an ocean out of droplets. Work well, we are with you," Mitra was captured on tape saying at one such programme.
The minister, known for his organisational ability and grassroots contacts, is one on whom Banerjee has reposed much faith since coming to power in Bengal three and a half years back.
He not only handles two crucial ministerial portfolios, but also plays a key role in mobilising masses at party programmes and rallies in Kolkata and neighbouring South 24 Parganas.
Amid months of speculation that he could be in trouble, especially after the agency recorded the statement of his former confidential assistant Bapi Karim, Mitra was evading CBI questioning for some time citing health grounds.
The minister was even hospitalised when he complained of illness. He first got admitted in a nursing home and later shifted to the government-run SSKM Hospital where he was said to have complained of a "panic attack".
Upon his discharge from the hospital Nov 26, Mitra approached the CBI and expressed his desire to appear for questioning.
Six days back, Mitra admitted he was "tense" about facing the grilling.
He is the fourth Trinamool leader to be arrested after the scam came to light last year.
Suspended Trinamool leader and Rajya Sabha member Kunal Ghosh was arrested by police in November last year, before the CBI nabbed parliamentarian Srinjoy Bose and party functionary Rajat Majumdar.
Ghosh had named many party colleagues, including Mitra, in a "tell-all" video after his arrest. He gave details of how and what relations they shared with Sen and his company and asserted they can help the investigators.
Prior to his arrest and even afterwards, Ghosh has time and again called for Mitra's questioning, claiming he knew how Sen, a small-time businessman, "made a meteoric rise".
A fuming Banerjee accused the BJP of "misusing power", and charged the CBI with "acting as per a sequence" of arrests given by a BJP leader during a rally here a few days ago.
"He (Mitra) was called as a witness. Within few hours he was arrested. Isn't this political vendetta? What the CBI has done is wrong. It is illegal, unconstitutional," she said.
"The situation in India is like Emergency now. We condemn all this. I will go to SSKM Hospital to meet Madan Mitra. I dare Narendra Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah to arrest me. This is an open challenge," she said.
The opposition hit out at Banerjee.
While state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury demanded Banerjee step down as chief minister, BJP national secretary SN Singh claimed the CBI probe will eventually lead to the chief minister's doors.
Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Surjya Kanata Mishra demanded Banerjee be grilled.
The CBI also arrested scam kingpin Sudipto Sen's legal advisor Naresh Balodia.
"The CBI also arrested Naresh Balodia, legal advisor to Sudipto Sen and Saradha group, on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and diversion of funds in the same case," CBI spokesperson Kanchan Prasad added.
(With Agency Inputs)