CBI bid to question city police chief foiled; CM launches sit-in on road.
Kolkata: A routine attempt by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to question Kolkata police chief in connection with various chit fund scams snowballed into an all-out war between the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee government on Sunday, with the feisty West Bengal leader beginning a sit-in outside the city’s landmark Metro cinema while accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah of plotting a “coup” and stifling the spirit of “Constitution and federalism”.
In a dramatic showdown with the Modi government, a furious Mr Banerjee, wrapped in a brown woollen shawl, began the sit-in close to where she had carried out a hunger strike protesting the Tata Nano plant in Singur in 2006.
Ms Banerjee began her protest against the “insults” she alleged she had faced at the hands of Mr Modi and Mr Shah hours after a CBI team that had gone to question Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar was detained in a rare face-off between the police establishments of the Centre and the state.
“PM Modi and Amit Shah are planning a coup in Bengal. The highest levels of the BJP leadership are doing the worst kind of political vendetta. Not only are political parties their targets, they are misusing power to take control of the police and destroy all institutions. We condemn this,” Ms Banerjee said.
“Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have teamed up to humiliate Bengal. They are trying to stage a coup in the state simply because I organised the Opposition meeting on January 19. This is worse than the Emergency,” she said from the site of her “Save the Constitution” dharna.
According to the CBI, Mr Kumar, a 1989-batch IPS officer of West Bengal cadre who led a special investigation team (SIT) of West Bengal police probing the chit fund scams, needs to be questioned regarding missing documents and files but has not responded to notices to appear before the agency.
On Saturday, the CBI claimed that Mr Kumar had been “absconding” and a search was on to locate and question him in connection with the Saradha and Rose Valley ponzi scam cases.
The fast-paced developments on Sunday started unfolding as soon as a team of 40-odd agency officers arrived at Mr Kumar’s residence at Loudon Street in central Kolkata in the afternoon, but they were stopped by sentries and officials.
CBI joint director Pankaj Srivastava said the agency’s officials had gone to question Mr Kumar in chit fund scam cases and “we would have rounded him up if he hadn’t cooperated with us”.
As the CBI team landed at the city police chief’s residence, a team of Kolkata police officers rushed to the spot to inquire if they had the documents required for questioning Mr Kumar. More men arrived at the spot, including West Bengal DGP Virendra and ADG (law and order) Anuj Sharma, and a commotion ensued.
Some CBI officers were then forcibly bundled into police jeeps and taken to the Shakespeare Sarani police station. They were released later.
After the CBI investigators left the police station, joint commissioner of police (Crime) Pravin Tripathi said, “They just said they had come for a secret operation. We don’t know what kind of operation it is.”
In a tit-for-tat move, a team of Kolkata Police officials cordoned off the CGO Complex — the state headquarters of CBI — but left the compound later.
CBI officer Srivastava said, “I have also been detained and there are police officers standing outside my house.”
A statement was issued earlier in the day by Kolkata Police dismissing reports of Mr Kumar being missing from work. “Please take note that not only is the CP Kolkata available in the city, but has also been attending office on a regular basis, with the exception of January 31, 2019, when he was on leave for a day. All concerned may please take note that if any news is spread without proper verification, Kolkata Police will initiate strict legal action against defamation of both the CP Kolkata and Kolkata police,” the police said.
The city police commissioner said he would talk to the media Monday. He was later seen at the dharna site of the chief minister.
On Saturday, the chief minister had showered praise on Mr Kumar saying, “The Kolkata police commissioner is among the best in the world. His integrity, bravery and honesty are unquestioned. He is working 24x7, and was on leave for only one day recently. When you spread lies, the lies will always remain lies.”
Ms Banerjee, one of the prime movers behind the effort to cobble together an anti-BJP alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, claimed the CBI knocked on the doors of Kolkata police commissioner without a search warrant.
The chit fund scams allegedly involve some leaders of the ruling Trinamul Congress and any action against them ahead of the Lok Sabha polls may have an adverse impact on the performance of Ms Banerjee’s party.
On Saturday, Mr Modi while addressing a rally in the state had targeted the ruling TMC and Ms Banerjee by claiming that his fight against black money has scared many political leaders, a veiled reference to alleged wrongdoings and corruption in the state.
As politics played out on the street on Sunday, Ms Banerjee asked all Opposition parties to unite to bring down the Modi government and, in a rare exhortation by a political leader, called upon personnel of security forces of the Centre and states, besides the Army, to “condemn” the attitude of the Modi government.
Dragging National Security Adviser Ajit Doval into the controversy, Ms Banerjee accused him of implementing PM Modi’s nefarious designs.
“I am sorry to say National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is giving instructions to the agency. He is implementing what PM Narendra Modi is asking. He should tell the people that it is not correct,” an agitated Ms Banerjee said.
TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien tweeted, “BJP planning a constitutional coup? 40 CBI officials surround Kolkata Police Commissioner’s home. Destruction of institutions goes on unabated. Our demand in #Parliament on Mon. Modi has to go. We are reaching out and sharing this with all Oppn parties who want to #SaveDemocracy.”
In the national capital, Union minister of state for personnel Jitendra Singh defended the CBI’s action.
“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, he set an example by cooperating with all the CBI probes launched against him, though all the allegations against him were unfounded. Here in the case of West Bengal, the cases are supported by reasonable evidence but still the state government has fought with the CBI which shows they have something to hide and it also indicates their guilt,” he said.
Several Opposition parties extended support to Ms Banerjee in her “fight to protect the Constitution”.
“Leaders of various opposition parties, including Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Chandrababu Naidu (TDP), Omar Abdullah (NC), Ahmed Patel (Congress) and M.K. Stalin (DMK), have called me to extend their solidarity and support,” she said.
In Delhi, the Congress said the CBI action in Kolkata was clearly “mala fide” and an “assault” on the federal polity.
The BJP slammed the Mamata government, accusing it of making a mockery of governance, democracy and constitutional propriety.
The party said the state government’s action is a direct assault on the constitutional scheme of things and reflects dictatorial streak of the chief minister.
“The development in Kolkata and the resistance to the CBI investigation is bizarre, unprecedented and reflect Banerjee’s dictatorial attitude. She has violated the very Constitution she had sworn by,” party spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said.