Even as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continued her dharna over CBI’s attempt to question city police chief Rajeev Kumar in chit fund cases, its ripple effect was felt in Parliament in New Delhi and the battle also moved to the Supreme Court, which will hear the matter on Tuesday.
CBI vs Mamata battle moves to Supreme Court
A day after a CBI team that had gone to Kolkata to question Kumar in connection with chit fund scams was briefly detained, the probe agency wasted no time in moving the Supreme Court on Monday morning, seeking directions to West Bengal government to cooperate with the investigation and to make available the police commissioner for interrogation.
The CBI has alleged in its petition that Kumar, who headed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was formed by the state in April 2013 to probe the Saradha chit fund scam, destroyed electronic evidence related to the ponzi scam cases. The case was taken up by the CBI in 2014 on the Supreme Court’s orders.
Turning down the CBI’s petition for urgent hearing, the apex court bench, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjeev Khanna, asked the agency to place all evidence before it through an affidavit while saying it would come down heavily on Kumar if he “even remotely” tried to destroy the evidence.
The West Bengal government also filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court against the CBI’s attempt to question the Kolkata police chief at his residence. The HC also refused an immediate hearing and listed the matter on Tuesday.
CBI-Bengal govt issue echoes in Parliament
Meanwhile, the standoff between the Bengal government and CBI echoed in the Parliament on Monday as both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha were adjourned as Opposition parties, led by the TMC, protested against the misuse of the probe agency. Making a statement in the Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed the developments in West Bengal as “unprecedented”.
“The incident in Kolkata is a threat to the federal political system of the country. There may be a constitutional breakdown in Bengal. Under the Constitution, the Central government has been vested with the power to maintain normalcy in any part of the country,” he said, as Opposition parties raised slogans such as “chowkidar hi chor hai” and “CBI tota hai” (CBI is a parrot).
Singh also sought a report from Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on the prevailing situation in Kolkata, which was promptly sent by Raj Bhavan after the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) submitted its findings. The governor also held discussions with state Chief Secretary Malay De.
Protests in Kolkata, BJP office vandalised
Back in Kolkata, Trinamool Congress workers blocked highways and rail tracks and took to streets burning effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. The BJP’s Bengal unit alleged that TMC workers had vandalised its party office in South Kolkata’s Bhawanipore.
.@mamataofficial’s goons have vandalised the BJP party office in Bhawanipore, South Kolkata. Mamata represents the Bhawanipore constituency.
— BJP Bengal (@BJP4Bengal) February 4, 2019
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said TMC protesters pelted stones at the party’s office and a police complaint had been lodged. “A scuffle broke out between the members of the two parties, following which the TMC workers overpowered the BJP men and vandalised the party office,” PTI quoted Ghosh as saying.
Another springboard for Opposition unity
Even as support continued to pour in from Opposition leaders for Banerjee, the TMC chief continued her tirade against the Modi government from the dharna site in front of Kolkata’s landmark Metro Cinema in the heart of the city. Banerjee said she was ready to give her life but won’t compromise.
“I did not take to the streets when you touched TMC leaders. But I am angry when they tried to insult the chair of the Kolkata Police Commissioner, he is leading the organisation,” ANI quoted Banerjee as saying.
The TMC chief had undertaken a 25-day fast at the same spot 13 years ago to protest the land acquisition in Singur by the erstwhile Left Front government to set up a Tata car factory. That movement catapulted her to power in 2011.
Watch: Former J&K chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti expresses solidarity with Mamata Banerjee and assures her support
More importantly, Banerjee’s dharna became another symbolic event of Opposition unity ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections after the United India rally held on the Brigade Parade grounds in January. TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien said 22 parties had extended their support to the protest against the Centre.
While AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal said the “Modi-Shah duo was the biggest danger” facing the country, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav alleged that the BJP wanted to stay in power “by hook or by crook” and was using the CBI as an “election agent”.
BJP questions Mamata’s dharna motive
However, Rahul Gandhi’s support to Mamata Banerjee, saying the “entire opposition will stand together and defeat these fascist forces” in her protest against the Centre, saw the BJP pouncing upon the Congress chief over his U-turn. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was not the BJP but Congress that had filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for an investigation into the chit fund scams
Prasad also questioned why the CM was quiet when many of her TMC leaders like Kunal Ghosh, Tapas Pal, Madan Mitra were arrested in corruption cases but had started a dharna to support a police officer. “It seems the Kolkata police chief knows a lot of secrets,” Prasad said.