Anarchy is loosed upon the Indian state of West Bengal by its own chief minister who is expected to uphold the rule of law and constitutional norms.
In an unprecedented act, Mamata Banerjee on Sunday stopped and briefly detained five federal investigators who came to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar over some documents linked to a $6 billion Ponzi scheme that defrauded 1.7 million depositors, most of them poor, in 2013.
Earlier in the day, Mamata snubbed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heading the federal government by blocking the chief minister of BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, from participating in two rallies in West Bengal. She denied permission for his helicopter to land at Balurghat and Raiganj, the venue of the rallies.
A fortnight back, Mamata tried to stop BJP president Amit Shah’s rally by denying his chopper permission to land at Malda.
In the violence-marred local elections held in the state in May last year,
20,159 seats remained uncontested. Expressing shock, the Supreme Court had observed then that it showed grass root-level democracy was not working in West Bengal.
On Monday (Feb 4), CBI filed petitions against the West Bengal government and Kolkata police in the Supreme Court while BJP petitioned the Election Commission of India against Mamata for preventing the party’s election campaigns in the state.
The incident involving a chief minister blocking federal agents to protect a police chief never happened in India until Sunday. Equally shocking was the participation of Kumar and some senior police officials in Mamata’s sit-in protest late in the night.
Mamata’s out-of-the-way move to shield Kumar indicates the top cop knows too much and whatever truth has come out so far regarding the Sharada scam may be just a tip of the iceberg. If more facts come to light, more leaders of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) may be implicated in the case.
Kumar had headed the special investigation team (SIT) to probe the Sharada scam soon after the collapse of the Ponzi scheme in 2013. Mamata’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) was ruling the state then while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power at the Centre.
The Supreme Court had instructed SIT to focus on the conspiracy angle and identify the culprits. Some of the TMC ministers and MPs involved in the scam were jailed and released.
CBI grew suspicious as Kumar ignored three of their summons since 2014. They wanted to record his statement and go through the documents he had seized during SIT raids. Their visit on Sunday came a day before CBI’s new director Rishi Kumar Shukla was to take charge.
CBI has been passing through a bad phase after a bitter and long feud between its former boss Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana came into the open recently and both were shifted. Maybe, the agency wanted to confront Kumar a day before the new director was to take office.
CBI is in possession of a letter Kumar wrote to Verma in 2017 in which he complained that the agency was sending him summons as if he was an accused in the corruption scandal. He requested Verma to see that he is not questioned by CBI.
After protecting Kumar and humiliating the CBI officers on Sunday, Mamata started playing the victim card. First, she dropped the ‘coup’ bomb alleging that Modi is using CBI to topple her government. Then she started a sit-in protest to ‘save the Constitution.’
Talking to media, Mamata accused the Modi government of undermining institutions when, in fact, she was demeaning India’s prime investigative agency by forcing the five officers to abort their mission. She also undermined the Supreme Court which had given CBI a free hand to deal with the corruption case.
Mamata said the federal agents came with no warrant without realising that CBI officers can enter the home of a subject of interest without that.
Latest reports from CBI sources indicate Kumar has destroyed some vital evidence linked to the corruption scandal. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, which will hear the CBI’s petitions on Tuesday (Feb 5), may come down heavily on the police commissioner if the agency can provide sufficient material to prove that vital evidence has been tampered with.