An unparalleled confrontation between the Centre and the state leapt from seats of power to the street on Sunday after the CBI and Kolkata police tussled over an attempted questioning of city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, and Mamata Banerjee threw her weight behind the decorated officer by spearheading an indefinite dharna or sit-in of public representatives and the IPS brass.
By Sunday night, the issue appeared to have snowballed into a full-fledged political battle that is expected to be fought on multiple fronts, including the pre-election arena and the courts.
Mamata sat on dharna at the Metro Channel from 9:00pm, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah of using the CBI to undermine the Constitution. She said she would run the state government from the site.
“I am deeply anguished. The manner in which Modi and Shah are trying to take control of Bengal is unprecedented,” Mamata told reporters.
“They (the CBI) did not come with any document. If you have a search warrant, if you have documents, you can come, but they have none.”
Mamata and the police cited a December 8 Kolkata High Court order that they said had restrained the CBI from enforcing the summons it had served on Kumar.
After Kumar and several other police officers had complained of receiving
agency summons well after the dates fixed for questioning had passed, the bench of Justice Shivakant Prasad had posted the matter for hearing on February 13.
Kumar had been caught in a tussle with the CBI over the past year or so in connection with a probe he headed into the Saradha case, a deposit-mobilising scam in which lakhs of depositors had lost their savings.
While the state police had kicked off the probe, the central agency stepped in following the apex court's orders. The CBI says it received no cooperation from state agencies and that Kumar destroyed key evidence related to the case, reported The Telegraph India Online.
“Our team visited his home this evening to question him. Had he not cooperated, we could have thought of our next course of action,” said Pankaj Srivastava, the agency joint director who looks after its operations in the east.
Asked whether the team had the necessary documents to interrogate the senior officer, CBI sources said they didn't need any as they had been conducting the probe under the Supreme Court's orders.
But a retired CBI joint director told this newspaper in Delhi that since the apex court was not monitoring the case, certain permissions were necessary.
Mamata said she and the state's officers were being targeted because of the show of Opposition unity she had organised on January 19 at the Brigade Parade Grounds.
The showdown created a flutter on social media, with many users calling it a stage-managed drama by “Modi and Didi” while others went after “caged bird” CBI and expressed support for the chief minister.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court yesterday agreed to give an urgent hearing to applications moved by the CBI alleging destruction of electronic evidence related to the Saradha case by the Kolkata police chief.
The top court will hear the probe agency's applications today.
The CBI alleged that it has moved the application as an extraordinary situation has arisen in which the top police officials of the West Bengal Police are sitting on a dharna along with a political party in Kolkata.
The applications accusing Kolkata police chief of destroying evidence related to the case and him of indulging in contempt of court was mentioned by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta before a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjeev Khanna.
The bench declined the plea of the SG to hear the two applications yesterday in the post-lunch session, reported TOI Online.
It said during the interregnum it will be open for the solicitor general or any other party to lay before the court any material or evidence to show that any West Bengal authority or police official is planning or trying to destroy evidence related to the case.
The top court said all material or evidence has to be placed before it by means of affidavit.
Amid ongoing tussle between the centre and the state, Mamata went into multitasking mode yesterday evening as she handed over awards to police officers.
The scene at the award function did not have anything to suggest it was out of the ordinary despite the circumstances surrounding the event.
Opposition parties led by the Congress party said they backed Mamata in her fight with Modi's administration, reported Reuters.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said Modi and his party were waging an "unrelenting" attack on political institutions.
"The entire opposition will stand together and defeat these fascist forces,” he said.
Modi has to call the election by May. Polls suggest his alliance may emerge as the largest group in parliament but short of a majority. Regional parties like Mamata''s could play a crucial role in any coalition building.