On the face of it, the battle looks to be territorial with the big question being: whether or not the CBI could move against a top state police official in the manner it sought to do so.
But behind Sunday’s unprecedented constitutional crisis lies much more at stake a lot of it political. The battle between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just got shriller in the build up to the general elections due in April/May.
Banerjee sat on an indefinite dharna in the heart of Kolkata at 8.30 pm, after an extraordinary turn of events that triggered a wave of support for her from Opposition parties.
High drama began when a team of 40 CBI officials tried to barge into Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s house at 6.30 pm to question him in connection with the Saradha chit fund cases. Kumar as the head of an SIT investigating the scam is alleged to have destroyed evidences. Many incriminating documents and items seemed to have gone missing.
They include five mobile phones, a laptop, a red diary and a pen drive, which were in possession of Saradha chit fund company owner Sudipto Sen. The surprise visit to the Kolkata police chief’s residence sparked a face-off between the state police and the central agency. The state police picked up the CBI officials and briefly detained them at a police station. The city police took position outside the CBI office and the agency's residential quarters to block all movements.
Banerjee rushed to the top cop’s house within half an hour and sat with her officers to chalk out a counter strategy. She came out around 8 pm and held a press conference, accusing the Modi-Shah duo of deliberately trying to corner her and malign her because she had organised the United India Rally against the Modi government on January 19.
"The situation is worse than an emergency. Just before the election, a conspiracy is at work to break the institutions and to throttle my state force," she said. However, she justified her role of hitting the street and taking recourse to a dharna as a move to save the "country, it's Constitution and the unity." The CBI clarified it was doing nothing wrong. We’re probing the chit fund cases on the Supreme Court’s directive. We’ve proof against the Kolkata Police Commissioner regarding the destruction of evidences, said CBI’s interim chief M Nageshwar Rao.
The premier investigative agency may move the Supreme Court on Monday. The CBI told the Supreme Court in July that the Kolkata and the state police were not cooperating with the central agencies and were not handing over the relevant documents. The CBI had been trying to question Kumar on this and had sent him notices for a couple of times, which went unheeded.
The CBI was armed with papers to question the Police Commissioner. However, the state officers claimed that the High Court had given a stay on questioning the top cop till February 13, 2019.
BEHIND THE SCENES
However, questions are being raised from different quarters as to why Banerjee took such a drastic step for the sake of a police officer. Sensing that such issues would be raised, she said that she was doing it not for an individual but to keep up the morale of her state police high. Banerjee who made little to no noise over the arrest of some of her political comrades in the scam showed unprecedented promptness and agility in coming up to the rescue of Kumar. She gave him the certificate of being the best in the world and having unquestionable integrity.
From a chief minister, as the head of the state, she quickly slipped into the avatar of a street politician, the role she always had preferred donning in the past as the leader of the Opposition. The state saw her fiery aggressive self once again as she chose to sit on a dharna, which she equated to a satyagraha, to whip up public sympathy.
Many felt the success of Modi's rally on Saturday had unnerved her and the CBI closing in on her men made her jittery. "And she had little or no option but to play this political mind game to keep the morale of her party high," said a political analyst. And already sympathies were pouring forth from different political leaders of the country, who were with her at the United India Rally.
They included TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, Congress’ Ahmed Patel, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav. She continuously harped on safeguarding the federal structure to hold onto the unity of the Opposition bloc. "To save the federal structure, democracy and Constitution from the BJP hooliganism, their audacity and arrogance, I am sitting here," she hollered from the dharna mancha. "Save India, save democracy," she was giving the battle cry. "Will see them if they try to impose President's rule," she threw the challenge. There were constant efforts to tug at the people's sympathy by saying that despite there being the state budget on Monday, she had to come down to the streets to save the country.
Truly unparalleled and unprecedented in the political history of Bengal, a chief minister sitting on a dharna in her own state for agencies coming down on her men. Political workers and supporters had started making a beeline to the dharna mancha and are likely to raise the political heat on Monday. This could be an attempt to hog the limelight of the Opposition politics when the focus is shifting on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi as the possible counter face of Modi, said political analysts.