The Irony Of Mamata Banerjee Sitting On A Fast To ‘Save Democracy’ In Today’s Bengal

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Feb 4, 2019 01:19 PM +05:30 IST
The Irony Of Mamata Banerjee Sitting On A Fast To ‘Save Democracy’ In Today’s Bengal Mamata Banerjee (Wikimedia Commons) 
  • In a paradox of sorts, Mamata Banerjee is sitting on a dharna to save democracy while using the state machinery to scuttle BJP rallies.

In no other state of India are opposition leaders denied permission to address rallies. In no other state of India are people warned against attending opposition rallies and programmes, and when they muster the courage to, are beaten black and blue.

In no other state of the country are CBI officers probing a case detained by the police, who also lay siege on central government offices. And, of course, no other state has ever witnessed the bizarre spectacle of a senior police officer sitting on a ‘dharna’ beside the chief minister (CM).

The Bengal government had, in December, denied permission to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to hold its planned yatras across the state and relented only after intervention by the Supreme Court. But at each and every rally to be addressed by a galaxy of BJP leaders, the state government has been putting up hurdles.

“The state has refused to grant us permission to hold rallies in public grounds that are under the state administration’s control. We are hiring private grounds, but the owners are being threatened. They (the state) did not allow (Union Minister) Smriti Irani’s chopper to land at two places, and kept on hold the permission for landing (BJP national president) Amit Shah’s chopper till the last moment. They tried to put up many hurdles to derail rallies addressed by even Prime Minister Modi,” fumed BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was to have addressed two rallies in North Bengal on Sunday (3 February), but the state administration did not grant permission for the UP CM’s helicopter to land at the two places. Last week, buses and vehicles that ferried BJP supporters to a rally addressed by Amit Shah at Kanthi were vandalised and set on fire by Trinamool Congress supporters.

“Trinamool Congress leaders and goons are threatening and intimidating people all over the state and warning them from attending our rallies. Those who are attending our rallies are being abused and attacked. Democracy has been totally subverted in Bengal,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.

The BJP will take this issue up with the Election Commission (EC). “We will inform the EC and may even approach the Supreme Court,” said BJP state president Ghosh. But the hurdles and roadblocks being put up the Trinamool and the state administration, he added, is have a “reverse effect”. “The Trinamool and the state administration now lie totally exposed. People are not fools and they realise how dictatorial and fascist the Trinamool Congress is. As for the state administration, it stands exposed as a totally politicised body owing allegiance to the Trinamool. And all this has strengthened our resolve to reach out to the masses and expose the Trinamool,” said Ghosh.

But it was the drama that unfolded in Kolkata on Sunday (3 February) that, undoubtedly, takes the cake. Eight officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) reached around 4.50 pm at the gates of the mansion in Kolkata where the city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar resides. The CBI had been asked by the Supreme Court in May 2014 to probe the Saradha and other ponzi scams that defrauded millions of people, mostly poor and middle classes, in Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Odisha, of an estimated Rs 500 million.

After the scam unfolded, the Bengal government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Rajeev Kumar. Kumar was then the Commissioner of Police of Bidhannagar, an exurb of Kolkata. But many allegations surfaced against the SIT, which was accused of destroying evidence that would have linked top Trinamool Congress leaders to the scam.

It was state Congress leader Abdul Mannan who, along with some lawyers, petitioned the Supreme Court (watch this interview of Mannan) praying for a CBI probe into the scam. The Supreme Court’s order granting this plea was hailed by the Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other opposition parties.

Incidentally, the Bengal government had strongly opposed the plea and argued against handing over the probe to the CBI. But even after the SC order, the state police reportedly refused to share vital information with the central agency. The CBI was forced to knock on the SC’s doors and complain about “non-cooperation” by the state police (read this and this). According to CBI officers dealing with the probe, a lot of evidence that was seized by the SIT during the first few months of its investigations have not been handed over to the central agency. The state police have also not answered innumerable letters from the CBI asking about such evidence.

The CBI has, for a couple of years now, been wanting to question (Kolkata Police Commissioner) Rajeev Kumar who has allegedly destroyed evidence that would have proved the involvement of top Trinamool Congress leaders in the scam. CBI interim director M Nageshwar Rao has asserted that CBI has evidence that Kumar destroyed evidence when he headed the SIT. But Kumar has persistently refused to join the probe even after the Supreme Court asked him to cooperate with the CBI.

It was because of his persistent refusal to appear before the CBI that agency officers landed at his doorstep on Sunday to question him. But within five minutes, a team led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Miraj Khaled reached the commissioner’s residence and asked the CBI team to produce a search warrant. According to rules, a search warrant is not required for questioning a suspect.

More police reinforcements arrived and after some time, the CBI officers were pushed into police vehicles and taken to the nearby Shakespeare Sarani Police Station for questioning. Simultaneously, state police laid siege on Nizam Palace (this houses many central government offices and residences of senior central government officers, including CBI officers) and the central government office complex at Salt Lake. The police didn’t allow anyone to exit or enter these complexes.

The CBI sought urgent appointment with Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, while the Union Home Ministry asked the Central Reserve Police Force and the Central Industrial Security Force to guard central government establishments in Kolkata. Fearing a standoff that the ill-trained, indisciplined, heavily politicised and unfit Kolkata Police force would not be able to handle, the state government asked the police to withdraw. The CBI has said that Sunday’s incident was the latest in a saga of harassments of CBI investigators by the state police.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had been defending Rajeev Kumar and even lavished praise on him as among the best in the worldc, reached Kumar’s mansion around 7 pm. She met top police officers and her State Security Advisor Surajit Kar Purkayastha (the former DGP of Bengal) and emerged 50 minutes later to address a press conference at the gates of the mansion.

She levelled the usual allegations about the central government trampling democracy and using the CBI to silence opposition. She also announced that she will sit on an indefinite dharna at ‘Metro Channel’ (in the heart of Kolkata) to demand ‘restoration of democracy’ in the country. She sat on the dharna all night and as of now, shows no signs of moving away.

Mamata Banerjee last sat on a dharna at the same spot 13 years ago. She reportedly fasted for 26 days at a stretch, and thus stretched the credulity of people and physicians who wondered how could anyone survive after such a marathon fast. But that aside, the dharna 13 years ago catapulted her to an electoral victory in Bengal and the chair of the chief minister.

She is hoping that this dharna would put her in the prime minister’s chair. And while she is staging the dharna for restoration of democracy in the country, reports have emerged that the state administration is, again, refusing permission for some planned rallies of senior BJP leaders in the state.

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