CBI team lands at Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s residence. Kolkata Police detain some members of the CBI team after a scuffle and, later on, surround their office. Central forces deployed outside CBI office. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, after meeting Kumar, sits on an indefinite dharna in protest against the Centre.
These were the sequence of bizarre events that played out on Sunday evening in Kolkata, sparking a fresh standoff between the West Bengal government and the Centre in connection with the CBI probe into the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams.
She said, “I have information that Narendra Modi asked CBI officers to do something against us on January 19, when we organised the United India rally, where 23 parties took part. They are frightened to see Opposition unity. Ajit Doval is just following the instructions of Narendra Modi and putting the Opposition in trouble. They are doing this because we are raising our voice against the Central government. There is complete Constitutional breakdown… Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are trying to organise a coup in the state.”
Why Rajeev Kumar is at the Centre of the standoff
The CBI alleged that crucial evidence linked to the chit fund scams was either not handed over or destroyed and suspected there was a “larger conspiracy” at play to shield some “influential” people. The probe agency wants to question Kumar, who led a Special Investigation Team to probe the scams, why crucial evidence seized from Saradha Group promoter Sudipta Sen’s residence was withheld from it.
CBI sources claimed they have been trying to question Kumar for the last few years. “We have been calling his office, and even wrote to him to cooperate. But he seemed to be unwilling,” they claimed.
With Kumar evading CBI’s repeated summons, it has led to a team of 40 CBI officials to land at Kumar’s residence to record his statement. They were, however, blocked by policemen guarding the residence. A heated argument broke out between the two parties and the CBI officers were taken to Shakespeare Sarani Police Station. The officers were released after questioning. “They said they were CBI officers. But they had no documents with them. They said they have come here to conduct a secret operation. They had no search warrants,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Pravin Tripathi said.
Amid the standoff, Mamata firmly stood behind Kumar, calling the CBI’s actions an attack on “democracy and the Constitution”.
“What gave them (the CBI) the audacity to raid the house of the Police Commissioner without a search warrant? Rajeev Kumar is one of the best police officers. He is not involved in the Saradha scam. He only headed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) which we had formed to probe the Saradha scam. This is a deliberate attempt to harass opposition parties. This is a blatant attack on democracy and the Constitution,” she said.
Mamata begins sit-in protest
She then began a sit-in protest in front of Kolkata’s landmark Metro Cinema at Esplanade, calling it a “satyagraha” against stifling of the spirit of “Constitution and federalism”. Mamata’s is expected to hold a Cabinet meeting on Monday before her ministers table the state budget in the Assembly.
Leaders of various Opposition parties extended their support to Mamata over the confrontation with the Centre, , with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi calling it “part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions by Mr Modi & the BJP”.
“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 tweeted.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, TDP president and Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu, J&K National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and DMK leader M K Stalin were others who expressed their solidarity.
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury took swipes at both the TMC government and Centre. “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,” he tweeted.
Battle moves to Supreme Court
The Centre moved Supreme Court seeking directions to West Bengal government to cooperate with the investigation into the chit fund scams and make available the Kolkata Police Commissioner for questioning. The apex court agreed to hear the plea on Tuesday morning.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna that it’s “unusual” that “personnel of uniformed services are on dharma with a political party”.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs sought a report from the state government on allegations that IPS officers violated Service Conduct Rules by obstructing a CBI investigation. Union Minister Home Minister Rajnath Singh called up West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi to discuss yesterday’s episode. The Governor informed Singh that had summoned Chief Secretary and Director General of Police and asked them to take immediate action to resolve the situation.
The standoff in Kolkata has also led to a ruckus in both Houses of the Parliament, with Trinamool Congress members raising slogans against the Centre. Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu was forced to adjourn the House will 2 pm when they entered the Well.