The ‘showdown’ between Mamata Banerjee and the Modi government does not bode well for India’s federal polity, and needs to be de-escalated on priority.
- The Kolkata police detained eight CBI officials who had gone to question police commissioner Rajeev Kumar. They also surrounded CBI offices in the city.
- As soon as Kolkata police left the venue, CRPF personnel took over as a precautionary measure
- Rajeev Kumar is accused of stalling investigation in the Saradha chit fund scam.
- Mamata has accused the Centre of misusing CBI against her government and is sitting on a dharana till the issue is resolved.
The growing tensions between the BJP and Trinamool Congress reached a zenith on Sunday, with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee sitting on a dharana to protest against the alleged misuse of the CBI by the central government.
The Kolkata police detained eight CBI officers who had gone to question Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar at his bungalow at Loudon Street on Sunday vis-a-vis investigations under the Saradha and Rose Valley scams. These officers were taken to the Shakespeare Sarani police station. This has led to a major showdown between the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal and the Modi government at the Centre.
Subsequently, hundreds of police personnel surrounded two central government buildings where CBI offices are located, along with the Enforcement Directorate as well as the residence of the joint director. Senior bureau officers informed governor Keshari Nath Tripathi.
Not one to take things lying down, Mamta reached the residence of Kumar and then staged a dharana against the Centre’s ‘super-emergency’ in front of the Metro cinema at Esplanade.While the police officers removed the cordon from CBI offices at 8 pm, a CRPF team took its place, indicating little hopes of an early resolution.
CASE OF THE MISSING MILLIONS…
Saradha group was an umbrella company in West Bengal that incorporated 200 private entities. It was accused of running Ponzi schemes worth more than Rs 10,000 crore to defraud over a million investors. While in operation, the group put up all the optics of a legitimate enterprise – associating with politicians and celebrities, investing in football clubs like Mohan Bagan and sponsoring Durga Puja events. The state government set up a Rs 500 crore relief fund for small investors who had put in their savings into the schemes, so that they would not go bankrupt.
Sudipta Sen, Chairman, Saradha Group was arrested from Jammu & Kashmir on April 23, 2013. He stated in a written application that a number of Trinamool Congress MPs were involved in the scam. Besides, there were highly serious accusations of international money laundering, regulatory failures and political nexus.
Interestingly, one of the main accused is former TMC leader Mukul Roy, who joined the BJP in 2017.
The Rose Valley Scam is allegedly even larger. The ED estimates that over Rs 15,000 crore was taken from depositors across India, particularly from West Bengal, Bihar and Assam. But other reports say that figure is even larger at Rs 40,000-60,000 crore. Apparently, politicians were also bribed to keep the operation smooth.
… AND THE MISSING COMMISSIONER?
Rajeev Kumar was appointed the head of an SIT to investigate the Saradha and Rose Valley Ponzi scams of 2013. He was asked to aid the CBI after several documents were allegedly missing and had also been issued several summons for questioning.
It all started on Saturday, when CBI officials accused Kumar of ‘absconding’ and said that he faced immediate arrest for delaying and diluting an SIT investigation in the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund ponzi scam.
As reported by TOI, this was strongly countered by Mamata as well as senior police officers. Jawed Shamim, Additional Commissioner of Police, addressed a press conference at the police headquarters, where he labelled the allegations against Kumar as “baseless, mala fide and defamatory”.
He added that Kumar was attending office daily, including weekends and had only taken one casual leave on January 31. Moreover, the Calcutta High Court had ordered a stay on CBI notices to Kumar till February 13.
Within an hour, the eight CBI officers were at Kumar’s residence, and sought entry for “official work”. Security personnel kept the officers waiting and sounded the alarm that the Commissioner’s residence had been “besieged by the CBI”.
Deputy commissioner of police (south) Miraz Khaled reached the spot first, followed by dozens of police officers, who put the CBI officers into cars and took them to the Shakespeare Sarani police station.
Banerjee also reached Kumar’s residence by 7:05 pm, and policemen started surrounding CBI offices around the same time. The cordon on the offices went on for around an hour, after which the officers started withdrawing. Almost immediately CRPF personnel took protective action and formed a cordon around the offices.
The West Bengal CM labelled it as a blatantly “political move”, which she would contest politically. According to her, this was a way to target her government due to the United India rally held on January 19 in Kolkata. She alleged, “They came to the commissioner of police’s home without any court order or warrant. The matter is sub-judice in the Calcutta HC and there is a stay order. This is blatantly wrong and an infringement on our federal structure. It is not about the person (I rate Kumar as the best police officer in the world) but it is about the office he holds.That office provides security to the city of Kolkata and has its own dignity and decorum. It is my responsibility as the state’s administrative head to stand by my men and women who work for me and the state, unselfishly.”
The CBI has also questioned Mamata’s close aide Manik Majumdar and summoned party MP Derek O’Brien. A few days earlier, BJP President Amit Shah accused Mamata of selling her paintings at inflated prices worth crores to owners of chit fund companies. Mamata in turn has challenged the Prime Minister to prove that she had taken a “single penny (using her paintings)” in her account.
CBI joint director Pankaj Srivastava countered the allegation stating that they did not need any order or warrant as it was an investigation ordered by the top court.
The CBI has moved the Supreme Court, as it is accusing the state government is obstructing a court-ordered investigation into the chit fund scams.
Meanwhile, a number of opposition parties have come out in support of Mamata Banerjee on the issue, accusing the Centre of misusing the CBI for its political motives. Already, the sacking of CBI Director Alok Verma has been riddled with controversy.
Who Said What
I spoke with Mamata Di tonight and told her we stand shoulder to shoulder with her.
The happenings in Bengal are a part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions by Mr Modi & the BJP.
The entire opposition will stand together & defeat these fascist forces.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 3, 2019
Why are you so petrified of CBI investigation when you have done no wrong, Mamata Didi?
PM Modi has waged a decisive war against corruption and black money. That is why he is constantly abused and attacked by those at the receiving end of the clean-up process. pic.twitter.com/I8jp3nNZIv
— BJP (@BJP4India) February 4, 2019
This drama in Kolkata by BJP and TMC is not a fight for any principle but only to save their corrupt and hide their corruption. CPI(M) has fought both these undemocratic, corrupt, communal and dictatorial regimes in the Centre and the state and will continue to do so. (2/2) https://t.co/m2vvHMYtEp
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) February 3, 2019
“Our notices have gone on deaf ears. The state police is not cooperating, they are trying to harass the CBI officials by various means. This was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court, which advised the state authority to cooperate. There is evidence against him (Rajeev Kumar), he has been instrumental in causing destruction of evidence and obstructing justice.”
M Nageswara Rao, Interim Chief, CBI, to ANI
We strongly condemn the incidents happening in Kolkata, a glaring example of how Modi-Shah duo are destroying the institutions. Attacking political opponents in different States, few days before the Parliament elections commence, will have disastrous consequences in the country.
— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) February 3, 2019
…We applaud and support the stand taken by Mamta Banerjee against the autocracy and tyranny of the Central government. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena firmly stands behind her and the fight against this tyranny. #RajThackeray pic.twitter.com/c8DbyiDNkl
— Raj Thackeray (@RajThackeray) February 3, 2019
भाजपा सरकार की उत्पीड़नकारी नीतियों और CBI के खुलेआम राजनीतिक दुरुपयोग के कारण जिस तरह देश, संविधान और जनता की आज़ादी ख़तरे में है, उसके ख़िलाफ़ ममता बनर्जी जी के धरने का हम पूर्ण समर्थन करते हैं.
आज देश भर का विपक्ष और जनता अगले चुनाव में भाजपा को हराने के लिए एकजुट है.
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) February 3, 2019
DKODING THE THEATRICS – A HUGE COST TO THE NATION
The political temperature in West Bengal has reached a feverish pitch over the past few days. UP CM Yogi Adityanath was compelled to address his rally in South Dinajpur telephonically, after the TMC refused to give landing permission for his helicopter.
A similar confrontation ensued between the BJP and TMC in Malda last month, when Amit Shah had a planned rally there. In his rally at East Midnapore, the BJP has alleged that TMC workers set fire to parked vehicles that were carrying BJP workers.
Considering the timing of this aggressive posturing vis-à-vis the Saradha and Rose Valley scams before the general elections, it is apparent that both sides are looking to extract political mileage from the ongoing imbroglio.
However, this kind of Centre vs State showdown is extremely unfortunate and detrimental to India’s federal structure that is enshrined in its Constitution. It doesn’t bode well for India’s perception internationally either, particularly the unfortunate situation wherein the West Bengal police and CRPF personnel were literally pitted against each other. A quick de-escalation of the situation needs to be done on priority.