In a fresh jolt to the Trinamool Congress, party strongman Anubrata Mondal was arrested by the Central bureau of Investigation in a cattle smuggling case on Thursday, three weeks after Enforcement Directorate picked up another heavyweight leader Partha Chatterjee in the school recruitment scam.
Mondal, who was arrested from his residence in Bolpur in Birbhum district after an hour-long interrogation, was sent to CBI custody till August 20 by a special CBI court.
The ruling party of West Bengal decided to hit the streets for two consecutive days against the vendetta politics allegedly being pursued by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government by using its agencies.
The Opposition BJP alleged that Mondal's arrest proves that the TMC is neck-deep in corruption and demanded a statement from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on this.
Mondal, whose political career was marked by controversies, skipped his scheduled appearance before the central probe agency on Monday and Wednesday, citing ill-health.
"We have arrested him for non-cooperation in the investigation into the cattle smuggling case. We have found Mr Mondal's direct involvement in the scam,” a CBI official told PTI.
The agency had summoned Mondal 10 times earlier, but he had appeared before them only once, earlier this year.
The official said the CBI would also question the doctor of a Bolpur hospital who had prescribed Mondal bed rest for 14 days.
Sleuths of the probe agency also conducted raids at residences of several close associates of the TMC leader.
The TMC's stand on the issue of Mondal was in sharp contrast to that of another party heavyweight Partha Chatterjee who was arrested on July 23 by the Enforcement Directorate in the school jobs scam. The ED found crores of rupees in cash in flats owned by a woman considered close to him.
Chatterjee was stripped of his cabinet portfolios and party posts within five days of his arrest. The TMC did not hit the streets against central agencies following his arrest.
In a sign of support for Mondal, the Mamata Banerjee-led party said no action will be taken against him now.
"The party doesn't support any form of corruption or wrongdoing. We have zero tolerance for corruption. The party will take the appropriate decision (on Mondal) at the right time. An allegation against someone doesn't prove him guilty,” senior leader and minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said.
She said, ”We have serious doubts about the functioning of the central agencies. We have seen that they are silent when it comes to taking action against BJP leaders against whom there are allegations of corruption."
Opposition parties came down heavily on the TMC following the arrest of Mondal.
"It is time the CM comes out with a statement on the arrest of Mondal. We all know he is close to the top TMC leadership," BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said.
Senior CPI-M leader Sujan Chakraborty alleged that Mondal considered himself above the law in Birbhum district, and the TMC leadership "turned a blind eye to his misdeeds."
The Congress's state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury claimed that the day is not far away when the central probe agency would reach the top echelons of the party in the graft case.