Two aspects stand out in relation to the unprecedented stand-off between the Centre – through its investigative arm, the CBI- and the State Government in Kolkata since Sunday evening. One is of the need to zealously protect and preserve the principles of federalism that is enjoined in the Indian Constitution. About this, the Modi government does not hold a good record; rather, it often showed utter disregard to it. The CBI offensive in Calcutta now is fresh proof of this. Two, the CBI has acted in a patently wrong manner by barging into the City Police Commissioner’s residence in an unprofessional way.
It’s here that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has caught the Centre on the wrong foot. Her stand was vindicated by the Supreme Court when Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi noted Monday that the CBI was coming to it with a complaint against the Commissioner without providing proof of any wrong-doing. Clearly, the CBI has acted in a haphazard manner. This was unbecoming of a central investigation agency.
As it turns out, Kolkata is witness to a major confrontation between the Centre and the State Government, and the last of which is not heard yet. Not just the state police but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself spread a protective ring around the Commissioner and detained the team of nearly forty CBI officials who went to the cop’s residence to pull him up. The commissioner has been accused of “absconding” after he refused to respond to the summons issued by the CBI. He has also been charged with “diluting and delaying” the investigations into the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund scams in which some ruling Trinamool Congress leaders are prominently involved.
The Chief Minister, on the other hand, certifies the Commissioner to be one of the best cops of the state and sees the CBI action as part of the Centre’s attempt to politically target her after she organised a rally of Opposition parties in Kolkata to jointly fight the BJP in the next Lok Sabha polls. Buttressing her argument, Mamata picked holes in the way CBI officers barged into the residence of the Commissioner Sunday. She has also stressed that the matter was sub-judice since it was under the consideration of the court. All eyes are now on the Supreme Court as it takes up the case for consideration Tuesday.
The scenario of a Centre-State confrontation of an unprecedented nature was in the making for quite some time. Both West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh had recently barred entry of CBI for investigations without the state’s permission. The Parliament rocked Monday over the developing scenario in Kolkata, while the state Governor has been asked by the Centre to submit a report on the situation to the Union Home Ministry. The Centre can, under law, invoke Constitutional provisions to even dismiss the government if the President is satisfied that a grave law and order situation has arisen. At the same time, the Modi government will not have the moral courage to go to such an extent at this juncture. As of now, the situation seems to be giving an advantage to Mamata. By taking matters to a head, she has scored political points over the BJP-led government at the Centre. The support that her party could muster inside Parliament was something to be noticed. Even the ever reticent BJD supported Mamata and surprised all non BJP parties.
What cannot escape notice is the fact that the CBI has been making a joke out of itself in recent times. Even during the UPA II period, the Supreme Court called it a “caged bird” acting at the whims of the central government. Under the Modi government, it underwent further degradation, evident also in the way two of its top functionaries engaged themselves in a sparring match. This also occasioned skeletons tumbling out of the CBI closet; centering around allegations that these top officials accepted crores as bribes. This was followed by the removal of these officials from their positions, and matter went up to Supreme Court. A new CBI chief has taken over on Monday, and he is already accused of being a BJP stooge. The credibility of this agency has taken a huge beating.
The CBI action in Kolkata proved yet again the unacceptable and unprofessional way in
which it acted. In the process, Mamata Banerjee found she was gifted with a fresh occasion to embarrass the Modi government. Overall, this breakdown of reputable institutions shows the pitiable state of affairs in the country.