It is almost unheard of for a Chief Minister to sit in dharna, to protect an IPS officer of the state.
But did Mamata Banerjee do that out of ‘respect’ for the officer?
It is rumoured that she did so because he knew just too much, and if he was indeed arrested by the CBI, she would be in jeopardy.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee labelled him the ‘best police officer in the world’. Rajeev Kumar, the former Kolkata police commissioner, who is now on the run from the CBI, is no ordinary IPS officer.
No other police officer in the country can boast of a chief minister staging a dharna to shield him from investigators. And no chief minister, too, has invested as much political capital and pulled out all the stops to protect a police officer.
Which brings one to the moot question: why does Mamata Banerjee go all out to protect Kumar? This is a question that has been asked ever since Banerjee in Kolkata in early February this year after CBI sleuths tried to question Kumar, who was Kolkata police commissioner at that time.
It is whispered in political and bureaucratic circles in Bengal that the reason Banerjee is so protective of Kumar is because he knows too much. “If he is interrogated under custody by the CBI and opens his mouth, a lot of secrets that can harm Mamata Banerjee herself and reveal her involvement in the Saradha scam will spill out,” says BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
Lawyer Arunava Ghosh, who was once a close aide of Mamata Banerjee and is now with the Congress, agrees. The CBI, he contends, has accused Kumar of destroying evidence, including call records and electronic data, when he headed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by the state government after the Saradha scam broke out in April 2013.
“It is suspected that the evidence Kumar destroyed could have implicated the top leadership of the Trinamool in the Saradha scam. He is known to be very tech-savvy,” said Ghosh, who is a senior advocate at the Calcutta High Court. That is why, he surmises, Mamata Banerjee is so keen on preventing the arrest and custodial interrogation of Kumar.
In fact, Rajeev Kumar met Mamata Banerjee on 4 September, just a few days before he went on leave and was missing on 9 September. A few days after that meeting, the Bengal CM put in a request to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for a meeting with Narendra Modi and eventually met him on 18 September.
Though Mamata Banerjee claimed she sought an appointment and met Modi to discuss administrative matters, top sources said that she attempted to talk about the CBI probe into the Saradha scam. However, she was reportedly rebuffed with the line that the investigation would take its own course. That was the first time she met Modi after repeatedly refusing to attend meetings chaired by him and after relentless vitriolic attacks on the Prime Minister and the BJP.
The sudden announcement of the meeting with Modi last week raised the suspicion that she would try to seek relief for Rajeev Kumar and ‘cut a deal’ with the Union government. “That (to cut a deal) was the main purpose of her seeking an appointment with Modi. What issues of importance did she ultimately discuss with him? All issues that she said she raised with the Prime Minister could have been discussed at routine meetings between her bureaucrats and those of the Union ministries,” said a senior BJP leader.
BJP leaders say Mamata Banerjee offered to cooperate with the Union government, withdraw false cases filed against BJP functionaries in Bengal, rein in her party cadres and stop them from targeting BJP workers in Bengal, stop her ceaseless foul-mouthing of the BJP and its leaders and stop criticising all moves by the Centre.
In return, she reportedly sought an assurance that the CBI would not seek to arrest Rajeev Kumar and would go slow on the Saradha probe.
But even before she could lay out the offer, she was reportedly rebuffed by both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, whom she also met in Delhi last week. A few days before meeting Modi, she uncharacteristically ceased her trademark voluble criticism of the BJP and its leadership.
Significantly, even when questioned by reporters before her trip to Delhi, she refused to bite the bait (as she usually does) and launch into a full-scale diatribe against Modi, Shah and the BJP. However, after having been reportedly snubbed by the duo, she resumed her vociferous attacks on the BJP and Modi after returning to Kolkata.
“That — her silence and sober behaviour before going to Delhi and the return to her old self after her return — is enough indication that her attempts at reaching an understanding with the BJP central leadership were rejected. Any intelligent person can make that out,” said the BJP leader.
What’s noteworthy is that after the Supreme Court handed the probe into the Saradha scam to the CBI in May 2014, the central agency interrogated and arrested a senior Minister close to Mamata, a few Trinamool MPs, and other lieutenants of Mamata Banerjee.
But while the Chief Minister did criticise their arrests, she never sat on a dharna or go out of her way to protect them. Thus, naturally, eyebrows will be raised when she gets so protective of a police officer, says Arunava Ghosh.
It is also rumoured that Kumar has told Mamata Banerjee that he would not be able to resist pressure from his interrogators if he is arrested. “Mamata Banerjee also knows that custodial interrogation by the CBI is a different matter and if that happens to Rajeev Kumar, he will not be able to stonewall his interrogators and hide the truth that he has been doing all along,” said BJP chief Ghosh.
He adds that once Rajeev Kumar opens his mouth, Mamata Banerjee’s political career will be over.
While it remains to be seen if that dire prediction comes true, what is a fact is that no Chief Minister has ever tried to shield a police officer from investigation in such an uncharacteristic manner as Mamata Banerjee has done with Rajeev Kumar. And that in itself raises serious suspicions.