With first the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and now the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filing cases against 12 ministers and MPs belonging to the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rage is easily understood.
Not only because so many of her ministers and MPs are facing corruption charges for so little ( Sahara papers had indicated much higher payoffs to politicians but in the absence of video tapes, the Supreme Court refused to order an inquiry), but also because the entire money for the sting was provided by KD Singh, of Alchemist and the Republic of Chicken fame, who she had courted after the Rajya Sabha MP fell out with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) , which got him elected to the Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand.
Singh, an industrialist based out of Chandigarh and Delhi, also invested in the magazine Tehelka and invited Mathew Samuel to join it as Managing Editor and conduct the sting. Samuel, however, insists the sting was his own idea and explains the two-year delay in putting it out to KD Singh dragging his feet.
He then decided to upload the videos on his own tri-lingual website. The Narada website, this Saturday (April 29) had updated only the Malyalam section but the English and the Hindi sections had not been updated since March.
Samuel, one of the key figures in the investigation, spoke to NH on the sting, his role and his interrogation by the CBI. First, the five points by way of background :
How did the idea of the sting operation come about?
“We wanted to come back into the market with a good story; with a bang. Since, I had conducted several sting operations in the past, we decided on a sting operation. It was 2014 and the elections were around the corner, so we decided to focus on states which were going through upheaval. The team had zeroed in on Madhya Pradesh and Himachal. I decided against Madhya Pradesh, because I didn’t want to be seen as a journalist targeting only the BJP. That isn’t and hasn’t been my intention. We did a recce of Himachal but nothing materialised, mostly because it is a small state.
It was around the same period that the Sarada chit fund case had surfaced in West Bengal. I felt that was, simply, the tip of the ice-berg. We decided to then focus on West Bengal and the Lok Sabha elections were also due in the state then.
How did the operation begin?
We spent a few weeks in Kolkata trying to gauge the mood of the public. During one of our taxi rides, we were chatting with the driver about our fictitious company and he mentioned that he knew ‘Tiger’ because he was his neighbour. He introduced us to Tiger, who then introduced us to Iqbal Ahmed and IPS officer Saiyaad Mustafa Hussain Mizra. They then introduced us to Sultan Ahmed (Iqbal’s brother), Subrata Banerjee, Firhad Hakim and Aparupa Poddar. Mirza then introduced us to Former Ministers Madan Mitra and Mukul Roy. These people then introduced us to others. Each of them wanted us to go meet more people. It was almost like a chain reaction.
What was the budget of the operation?
Initially, the budget was ₹25 lakh, but once I reached Bengal and started to meet politicians, I realised that it would exceed the amount allocated. We were expecting to meet only three or four ministers, but the number kept increasing. Eventually, the budget had to be increased to ₹80 lakh as bribe for favours.
What was the strategy you followed to net these people?
Have you watched the movie Munich? There’s a strategy they followed and we took inspiration from the book, Gideon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas. We kept referring to it as it inspired all of us.
When we went to meet politicians, I introduced myself as Santosh Shankaran, a businessman from Chennai, heading Impex Consultancy. We informed them that we were interested in beginning business ventures in Bengal, especially in the transport and state highway segments. We had created a website and a virtual number. If anyone tried calling the number listed on the website, it would route the call to me. The idea was inspired from the book Gideon’s Spies.
Wasn’t KD Singh a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Rajya Sabha candidate in 2010 and didn’t he switch to AITC(All India Trinamool Congress) in 2011?
No, he was a JMM MP when I met him and when the operation was conducted. If he switches parties after being elected, then the anti-defection law would apply. He resigned in 2015 and it is only in 2016 that he joined the AITC.
(JMM MP Sanjiv Kumar contradicted Mathew and said, the anti-defection law wouldn’t apply if there is only one Member of the party in the House. “KD Singh was elected on a JMM ticket and within months he joined the AITC. When I was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2012, he was the AITC member from Jharkhand. He then resigned in March 2014 and was re-elected in April 2014 from West Bengal,” said Mr Kumar.)
Why did KD Singh, an AITC Rajya Sabha member, allow you to sting his party colleagues?
KD Singh was with JMM when the operation was conducted. I am only a journalist. I do not know what his ideas were. You can question him.
What happened once the sting operation was done?
Once the operation was done, the Tehelka management, which included KD Singh, kept stalling the release of the story and videos. He said they would release it ‘soon’. That got extended to two years. We were sitting on a ticking bomb. Stories were getting leaked and that’s when I decided I would publish the story on my own, despite KD Singh’s opposition. It was a story that needed to be heard. The public should hear about their elected members.
How and why did you release the story through Narada News?
I was in conversation with friends since February 2015 regarding the opening of a news portal and eventually in December 2015, it fructified. When I had decided that I would release the videos, it seemed like a good starting point for a new channels to make waves.