ENTERING a showdown with the Centre, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday night began an indefinite dharna alleging a coup against her government, after several hours of a standoff between her administration and a CBI team seeking to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with chit fund scams. During the course of the fast-developing drama, that began around 6 pm, the CBI team was briefly detained. By Sunday night, Central forces had been deployed at the CGO Complex housing the CBI office in Kolkata.
Mamata, wrapped in a brown shawl, sat on 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”. She said she had faced “insults” at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. She accused the CBI of landing at the home of the Kolkata police chief without a search warrant.
By 9.30 pm, Mamata’s entire Cabinet had joined her at the dharna site, apart from other party leaders and top police officers of the state, including Kumar. Makeshift rooms were being erected for the leaders to take rest. Mamata, it was said, would hold her Cabinet meeting here on Monday, following which her ministers would place the Budget in the Assembly.
Sources said the CBI was contemplating moving the Supreme Court against “obstruction of law”. Interim CBI chief M Nageshwar Rao told ANI there was evidence against Kumar. “He has been instrumental in causing destruction of evidence and obstructing justice,” Rao said, adding that the CBI was investigating the chit fund cases on the directions of the Supreme Court and that the Kolkata Police had taken charge of all the evidence and the documents. “They have not been cooperating with us in handing over all the documents, and a lot of evidence has been destroyed or caused to disappear,” he told ANI.
West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi has summoned the Chief Secretary and DGP over the issue.
At around 6.10 pm, a team of 40-odd CBI officers in two jeeps arrived at Kumar’s residence at Loudon Street in Central Kolkata. They were stopped by a team of policemen. When CBI officials said they wanted to record Kumar’s statement, they were told they needed to give prior information.
A day earlier, as per some news reports, the CBI had claimed Kumar was “absconding” and “being looked for” in connection with Saradha and Rose Valley ponzi scam cases.
A group of CBI officials stayed near Kumar’s residence while some went to Park Street Police Station, to hand over a letter of intimation. There they were told to go to Shakespeare Sarani Police Station, as the Commissioner’s residence fell under its jurisdiction. Even as a team of CBI officers was on its way to Shakespeare Sarani Police Station, police at Kumar’s residence got into a heated argument with the other CBI officers, following which they were manhandled, almost dragged into a police jeep and taken to Shakespeare Sarani Police Station.
Meanwhile, Loudon Street was cordoned off with heavy deployment of police at Kumar’s house. Police were also deployed at the CBI office.
Mamata, who landed at Kumar’s residence soon after, said that the January 19 rally, where she had brought more than 20 opposition parties on one platform in Kolkata, was behind the Centre’s actions. Holding a press conference after meeting Kumar, 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.”
Unprecedented, raises poll heat
The unprecedented show of solidarity by a Chief Minister for a police officer wanted by the CBI is set to become a Lok Sabha election issue. While the TMC and Mamata Banerjee will present this as a violation of federalism, the BJP gets to underline how the coalition against it is “shielding the corrupt”.
She added, “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.”
Kumar, who appeared briefly outside his residence after the CM’s press conference, said he would talk to the media Monday. Later, he was seen at the dharna site of the CM.
Amid the confrontation, as the Kolkata Police surrounded the CBI office, CBI Joint Director Pankaj Srivastav said, “I have also been detained and there are police officers standing outside my house.”
At around 8.45 pm, detained CBI officials were released. Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Pravin Tripathi said they had been allowed to go 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,” Tripathi said.
Later in the evening, Central forces were deployed in the CGO Complex area where the CBI office is located. Subsequently Kolkata Police personnel vacated the CBI compound. Saying that they had called the Central forces, CBI officer Srivastav said, “Crucial documents of not just chit fund but other cases too are here in the office. The manner in which the Kolkata Police came here is unacceptable.”
Official sources said that the Central forces which were moved to the CGO office are on routine standby in Kolkata, under the command of the state government. They added that so far no official communication had been received from the Centre to send additional forces.
Kumar had earlier skipped a meeting with Election Commission officials who had gone to Kolkata to review election preparedness.
Earlier in the day, the Kolkata Police dismissed reports of Kumar missing from work, amidst CBI charges that he was absconding. “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.
6.10 pm: CBI team lands at Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s office, stopped
6.30 pm: Some CBI officers go to police station to hand over an intimation letter
6.50 pm: Scuffle between Kolkata Police and CBI team at Commissioner’s house, CBI officers bundled into a police jeep, led away
7 pm: CM Mamata arrives at Kumar’s house
8.28 pm: Mamata announces dharna at Esplanade
8.35 pm: CBI team released
9 pm: Central forces posted at CBI office
9-9.15 pm: Mamata begins dharna