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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 24, New Delhi, May 29, 2021

Interpreting the Narada Bribery Case | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 29 May 2021, by Arup Kumar Sen


In his seminal text, State of Exception (The University of Chicago Press, 2005), Giorgio Agamben argued: “The question of borders becomes all the more urgent: if exceptional measures are the result of periods of political crisis and, as such, must be understood on political and not juridico-constitutional grounds...,then they find themselves in the paradoxical position of being juridical measures that cannot be understood in legal terms, and the state of exception appears as the legal form of what cannot have legal form”.

The Narada bribery case may be interpreted in the light of Agamben’s insightful observations on the interface of politics and law.

The Narada sting operation was conducted by Mathew Samuel for the news magazine, Tehelka, in 2014. Conducted for over two years in West Bengal, it was published on a private news website, Narada News, founded by Samuel, months before the assembly elections in West Bengal in 2016. A number of leaders/Members of Parliament/Ministers of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government were alleged to have taken bribes in cash for extending unofficial favours (See The Indian Express, May 23, 2021). In spite of such allegations, the TMC had a landslide victory in the assembly elections over its nearest rival, the Left-Congress alliance, and formed the government in 2016.

The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the sting operation in March 2017. The Court also directed the CBI to register an FIR against those who were involved in the case, if required (ibid.).

In the recently held assembly elections in West Bengal in 2021, the results of which were declared on May 2, the TMC had a landslide victory over its nearest rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and won 213 out of 294 seats in the state assembly.

On May 9, 2021, the West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar, on a request by the CBI, sanctioned the prosecution of Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim (both of them are ministers of the newly formed government), Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee (ibid.). The case is pending in the Calcutta High Court.

We do not have the authority to comment on the case from a legal perspective. But, the recent spectacular developments in West Bengal relating to the case remind us of Giorgio Agamben’s theorization of the State of Exception: “The expression full powers, which is sometimes used to characterize the state of exception, refers to the expansion of the powers of the government, and in particular the conferral on the executive of the power to issue decrees having the force of law”.

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