The graceless spectacle in Kolkata since Sunday evening captures a drama that incriminates all its players. To begin with, the CBI team, made up of 40-plus officers, landing up, allegedly unannounced and warrantless, at the residence of the Kolkata Commissioner of Police. A face-off between the state police and the CBI. The Chief Minister of West Bengal sitting on a dharna, a “satyagraha” against the Centre’s “coup” attempt, daring it to impose President’s Rule, her top cop by her side. And on the other side, the BJP projecting West Bengal as a “state of anarchy”. The war of images and words has almost completely overtaken the issue ostensibly at the heart of it all — the investigation into Saradha and other chit fund scams in which thousands of small investors were cheated, and which allegedly involve politicians in the ruling TMC even as some prominent accused have since crossed over to the BJP.
But then, the Saradha probe may not be at the heart of the showdown politics in West Bengal at all. Behind the loud invocations of Corruption, Constitution, Democracy and Federalism by both sides may lie no higher scruple or principle — only a narrow, short-term electoral calculus. With general elections in a couple of months’ time, it may be that the images from Sunday are related to that earlier photo-op from West Bengal — the show of strength on a Kolkata stage of 23 Opposition parties under the aegis of the TMC in January. If that be the case, both ruling parties, at the Centre and in West Bengal, have much to answer for. And in this bid to mis-use state resources to launch their respective electoral campaigns in a state where the TMC is dominant and the BJP is on the rise, the BJP-led Centre seems more to blame.
The BJP government at the Centre must know that both the manner and timing of the CBI action in West Bengal reek of a politics of vendetta against a political opponent. In the short term, the party may even make electoral gain from the riveting showdown in Kolkata — as may Mamata Banerjee, who is clearly revelling in her return to street politics and is using this moment to rally behind her potential allies in the Opposition. But in the longer term, the Kolkata vaudeville carries troubling consequences in a constitutional democracy. In its visible undermining of due process, it threatens to deepen distrust and strengthen cynicism. It is now up to the judiciary — the CBI has gone to court and the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the matter on Tuesday — to read the rule-book and the law to the dramatis personae.