Mamata resorts to sit-in after CBI-police face-off in Kolkata
KOLKATA: An all-out war broke out between the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee government on Sunday, with the feisty West Bengal leader beginning a sit-in protest at a city landmark over the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) attempt to question the Kolkata Police chief in connection with chit fund scams, insisting it stifled the spirit of “Constitution and federalism”.
The CBI now plans to drag the state government to the Supreme Court. The agency›s interim boss M Nageswara Rao said that the West Bengal police are not cooperating. Hence, “We will approach the Supreme Court on Monday.”
In a dramatic showdown with the Modi government, a furious Banerjee, wrapped in a brown woollen shawl, began a sit-in right in front of the Metro Cinema to protest “insults” she faced at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, hours after a CBI team that had gone to question Rajeev Kumar was detained in a rare face-off between the police establishments of the Centre and the state.
Banerjee, one of the prime movers behind the effort to cobble together an anti-BJP alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, claimed the CBI knocked on the doors of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar without a search warrant.
She alleged the Centre wants to impose President’s rule in whichever state the opposition is in power. “I can assure....I am ready to die but I am not ready to bow down before the Modi government and we won’t allow imposition of Emergency...Please save India, save democracy, save the Constitution,” she said.
Banerjee asked all opposition parties to unite to bring down the Modi government and, in a rare exhortation by a political leader, called upon personnel of security forces of the Centre and states, besides the Army, to “condemn” the attitude of the Modi government.
The fast-paced development started unfolding as soon as a team of 40-odd agency officers arrived at Kumar’s residence at Loudon Street in central Kolkata Sunday afternoon, but they were stopped by sentries and officials.
Joint director of CBI Pankaj Srivastava said the agency’s officials had gone to question Kumar in chit fund scam cases and “we would have rounded him up if he hadn’t cooperated with us.”
According to the CBI, Kumar, a 1989-batch IPS officer of West Bengal cadre, who led a Special Investigation Team of West Bengal Police probing the
scams, needs to be questioned regarding missing documents and files but he has not responded to notices to appear before the agency.
A day earlier, the CBI claimed that Kumar had been “absconding” and “being looked for” in connection with Saradha and Rose Valley ponzi scam cases.
As the CBI team landed at the city police chief’s residence, a team of Kolkata Police officers rushed to the spot to speak to the CBI officials and tried to enquire if they had the documents required for questioning Kumar. Later on, a small team of CBI officials was taken to Shakespeare Sarani police station for further discussions. Thereafter, more men arrived at the spot and a commotion ensued. Some CBI officers were then forcibly bundled into police jeeps and taken to the police station.
As politics played out on the street, the Chief Minister, who rushed to the residence of Kumar, said, “Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are trying to organise a coup in the state as we had organised the opposition rally on January 19. We were aware that the CBI will attack us after we organised the rally.” She was referring to the Brigade rally attended by leaders of about 20 opposition parties.
Party spokesperson Derek O’Brien tweeted, “BJP planning a constitutional coup? 40 CBI officials surround Kolkata Police Commissioner’s home. Destruction of institutions goes on unabated. Our demand in #Parliament on Mon. Modi has to go. We are reaching out and sharing this with all Oppn parties who want to #SaveDemocracy.”
West Bengal DGP Virendra and ADG (Law and order) Anuj Sharma too reached Kumar’s residence.
In a tit-for-tat move, a team of Kolkata Police officials also cordoned off the CGO Complex - the state headquarters of CBI.
CBI officer Srivastava said, “I have also been detained and there are police officers standing outside my house.”
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Pravin Tripathi said the CBI officers have been let go from the police station after questioning. “They just said they had come for a secret operation. We don’t know what kind of operation it is,” Tripathi said.
Later in the evening, central forces arrived at the CBI office in Kolkata. Subsequently Kolkata Police personnel vacated the compound.
A statement was issued earlier in the day from Kolkata Police, dismissing reports of Kumar being missing from work. “Please take note that not only is the CP Kolkata available in the city, but has also been attending office on a regular basis, with the exception of January 31, 2019, when he was on leave for a day. 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.
The city police commissioner, who appeared briefly outside his residence after the Chief Minister’s press conference, said he would talk to the media Monday. He was later seen at the dharna site of the Chief Minister.
Speaking at the dharna site, Banerjee said leaders of several opposition parties have called her up to extend their support and solidarity towards her “fight to protect the Constitution.”
“Leaders of various opposition parties, including Akhilesh Yadav Samajwadi Party), Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Chandrababu Naidu (TDP), Omar Abdullah (NC), Ahmed Patel (Congress) and M K Stalin (DMK), have called me to extend their solidarity and support,” she said.
In Delhi, the Congress said the CBI action in Kolkata was clearly “mala fide” and an “assault” on the federal polity.