Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah of plotting a coup, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday night began a “Save the Constitution” protest on Kolkata’s Esplanade. Her protest came hours after officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation attempted to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with two Ponzi scams, ANI reported.
Banerjee told reporters that she would stand with the police force, and said the developments showed “the destruction of the federal structure”. She said that Modi and Shah had teamed up to humiliate Bengal in retaliation for the meeting of 23 Opposition parties she organised in Kolakta on January 19.
“This is worse than the Emergency,” Banerjee said.
Derek O’Brien, the spokesperson for Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, told reporters that 40 CBI officials had surrounded the Kolkata police commissioner’s home on Sunday. The team wanted to question Kumar about the Rose Valley and Saradha ponzi scams, ANI reported. Shortly after this, the Kolkata Police detained five CBI officials, India Today reported. The CBI team was taken to a police station and was let off after around two hours of questioning.
Lack of cooperation alleged
Interim CBI chief M Nageswara Rao told ANI that there was evidence against Kumar and claimed he had been “instrumental” in causing destruction of evidence. “They [State police] have taken charge of all the evidence, seized all the documents,” he said. “They have not been cooperating with us in handing over all the documents and a lot of evidence has been destroyed or caused to disappear.”
CBI Joint Director Pankaj Srivastava said the team had gone to Kumar’s home to question him in connection with the chit fund scam cases and “we would have rounded him up if he hadn’t cooperated with us”, PTI reported.
Rahul Gandhi’s support
Several Opposition leaders on Sunday described the CBI’s move as unconstitutional . They accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government of misusing the agency and undermining important institutions.
“The happenings in Bengal are a part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions by Mr Modi & the BJP,” said Congress President Rahul Gandhi in a tweet. “The entire opposition will stand together & defeat these fascist forces.”
Tweeted former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, “The country has faced similar kind of unconstitutional methods during the Emergency. The situation in West Bengal is similar to that of the Emergency days.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he had spoken to Banerjee and and expressed solidarity. “Modi-Shah duo’s action is completely bizarre and anti-democracy,” he tweeted.
Both Deve Gowda and Kejriwal had participated in the Trinamool Congress-led United India rally in Kolkata on January 19.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi accused the Modi-led government of undermining institutions like the CBI and the National Investigation Agency. “Modi will not be permanent, but his ‘sarkar’s’ unrepentant attack on our institutions will take a lot more time to recover from,” he tweeted.
‘Banerjee’s dictatorial attitude’
Meanwhile, the BJP attacked the Trinamool Congress-led government in West Bengal and accused it of making a mockery of governance, democracy and constitutional propriety, PTI reported.
“The development in Kolkata and the resistance to the CBI investigation is bizarre, unprecedented and reflects Banerjee’s dictatorial attitude,” said party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao. “She has violated the very Constitution she had sworn by.”
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli described the situation in the state as unprecedented and said it is an indication of “total collapse” of law and order. “It is clear that the state government under Mamata Banerjee has lost sight of all constitutional propriety,” he said. “People can see what a mockery of governance, democracy and constitutional propriety taking place.”
Rao said the state government has been indulging in undemocratic and unconstitutional action and Sunday’s move by the Kolkata Police is “an assault beyond all limitations”.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha sought the imposition of President’s Rule in the state after Banerjee started her dharna. “I demand President’s Rule in West Bengal to save democracy and the constitutional rule,” he said.
Kumar ‘goes missing’
Kumar, who has not been seen in public since the CBI summoned him on February 1, headed the special investigation team that inquired into the two chit fund scams before the central agency took over in 2014 on the Supreme Court’s orders. The special investigation team had been set up by Banerjee the year before.
The CBI has sought documents and files from Kumar. However, he has not responded to notices asking him to produce the documents. Unidentified CBI officials said Kumar may be placed under arrest if he does not respond to the agency’s summons, NDTV reported on Saturday.
Banerjee has extended her support to Kumar, claiming he was “among the best in the world”. She also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules at the Centre, of “spreading lies” about him. She said Kumar has been “working 24x7, and was on leave for only one day recently”.
“The highest levels of the BJP leadership are doing the worst kind of political vendetta,” Banerjee tweeted on Sunday. “Not only are political parties their targets, they are misusing power to take control of the police and destroy all institutions. We condemn this.”
The Kolkata Police has also dismissed the CBI’s allegations against Kumar as “baseless”.