Mamata Banerjee’s reaction to the arrest of Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay by the CBI is unbecoming of a chief minister, particularly one who has been attempting to build herself up as a national leader. Banerjee has claimed that the corruption charges against Bandyopadhyay are part of a “political vendetta” by the Centre and she has refused to condemn the attack on the BJP’s West Bengal headquarters, allegedly by TMC workers. Her dramatic statements — from challenging the Centre to arrest her to asserting, in a barely veiled threat, that “we too have a government” — show a lack of maturity. Rather than showing respect for due process, she has chosen to treat the CBI’s actions as a call to abandon measured political discourse and even undermine the rule of law.
The CBI, when it has acted against politicians, has often been accused of being an arm of the Union government of the day.
Bandyopadhyay is the second TMC MP to be arrested in the last week in connection with the Rs 17,000-crore Rose Valley chit-fund scam after Tapas Paul was taken into custody last week. Bandyopadhyay has been questioned for his alleged connection with the real estate and entertainment company and its chairman, Gautam Kundu. Banerjee and her party have stood behind the arrested leaders, alleging that the investigation by the CBI is meant to deter the TMC’s opposition to the prime minister’s demonetisation drive, both in Parliament and on the streets. The fact that the arrests have come so soon after her national campaign against demonetisation may allow her to score some political points in the short run, but it may well hurt her larger ambitions. Given the fragmented, federal nature of the opposition, Banerjee has every opportunity to emerge as a leader on the national stage.
However, her regression to a politics of shrill rhetoric threatens to diminish her image. Banerjee has always been a street fighter and as an opposition politician taken on what was then a formidable Left-front government in West Bengal. Even now, in her second term in office, she seems unable to let go of that politics, centred around a vocabulary of presenting herself as a persecuted party. As a politician, Banerjee has every right to speak against what she perceives as “vendetta politics”. But her refusal to condemn the violence against an opposition party’s headquarters, and personalising the CBI investigation will only hurt her credibility. Even if she believes her own allegations against the CBI and Centre, the way forward is to ensure the West Bengal government serve as a contrary example in executing the rule of law and due process, without malice or favour.