he recent high drama enacted by Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee over the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI’s) proposed interrogation of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar defies common sense, logic and constitutional norms. What Mamata did in the evening, February 3, was unprecedented. She instructed the police force of her state to detain the CBI officers who had gone to question the Commissioner at his residence. She also staged a sit-in accompanied by her council of ministers, party MLAs, and the Commissioner himself, protesting against the CBI action.
She does this despite the fact that the CBI is investigating the sensational chit fund scam under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, and the agency had summoned Rajeev Kumar four times to appear before the CBI, which the Commissioner did not comply with. Why should she be so reactive about the questioning of a police officer who allegedly tampered with crucial evidence connected with the sensational chit fund scam of about Rs 40,000 crore involving about 18 lakh common people?
If Kumar is clean and innocent, and is “among the best in the world” as certified by Mamata, then why is he hiding from the CBI, and even the Election Commission?
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted by the West Bengal Government April 2013 to investigate the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams, and the team was headed by Rajeev Kumar. This SIT seized laptops, cell phones, pen drives and diaries from the Saradha chief Sudipta Sen. The Supreme Court directed the CBI to take over the case in 2014 as the scam involves other states such as Odisha, Assam and Tripura; but as the SIT head Rajeev Kumar neither handed over crucial evidence to the CBI, nor has he complied with its summonses for presenting his explanation. The CBI alleges that Kumar is hiding evidence to protect the powerful from the state involved in the mega scam.
If Kumar is clean and innocent, and is “among the best in the world” as certified by Mamata, then why is he hiding from the CBI, and even the Election Commission? On January 31, the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora organized a meeting at which Kumar was to be present; but he remained absent, for which the CEC sought an explanation from the Commissioner. Surprisingly, while the Commissioner was silent, Mamata came forward to issue an apology on his behalf and termed it as a “small matter”. Why was the Commissioner hiding from a constitutional body, and why is Mamata, instead of directing him to perform his duty diligently, protecting him and defending his actions? Something is obviously fishy.
The issue arising from the whole affair between the CBI and the Commissioner has been partly addressed by the apex court. The CBI approached the Supreme Court February 4 seeking a direction to the Commissioner to cooperate with the investigation in the chit fund scam. The CBI also prayed for a contempt proceeding against the Chief Secretary of West Bengal and the Director General of Police, West Bengal, for obstructing the CBI, which was acting on the direction of the SC.
The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, after hearing the petition, directed Kumar to appear before the CBI at Shillong, and has issued notice to the opposite parties in the contempt petition. The SC also placed the condition that Kumar will not be arrested. Justice Gogoi has made it clear that the SC would take the issue with utmost seriousness if it would find that evidence of the chit fund scam has been tempered with or was destroyed by anybody.
Mamata seems to have found a breather in the Supreme Court’s order and has lauded it as a “victory for democracy”. Earlier, she used high-sounding words against CBI action by calling it an “assault on constitution and democracy”, “coup on the State” and “an attack on the police force”. The SC has never subscribed to her stand in its order. Obviously the mega scam has caused deep-rooted fear and panic in her mind.
Many top leaders of the TMC have been exposed to be involved in the Rs 40,000-crore chit fund scam. Top TMC leaders Sudeep Bandopadhyaya, Madan Mitra, Rajat Majumdar and Sadanand Gogoi have already been arrested and are facing trial. Mamata’s party appears to be involved in the scam, which has snatched the hard-earned money of 18 lakh depositors. Only time will tell what role Mamata has played in the mega scam. She cannot claim to be beyond suspicion. The Supreme Court order has punctured her hollowed display of high moral ground.
Fact is that the CBI has been abused by central governments headed by almost all political parties against their opponents. The Supreme Court has even compared the central investigative agency to a “caged parrot”. In the past, it was used or abused against Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Lalu Yadav and many others; but none has treated this agency with so much hostility or aggression as Mamata has done. Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat or Lalu as Chief Minister of Bihar never obstructed the CBI from functioning freely in their respective states.
It seems Mamata is frightened of a bleak political future also, which is evident from her denial to BJP chief Amit Shah and UP CM Yogi Adityanath to land their choppers in West Bengal. This is totally undemocratic and against federalism. As the Chief Minister, she should not encourage and instigate anarchy in the state. If she alleges that the Centre is abusing the CBI, then what does she do with the state police force? Also, the court is there to protect her from any injustice. It is expected that after the Supreme Court’s reasoned order good sense will prevail on Mamata and she would respect the Constitution and laws of the land.
The writer is an advocate based in Bolangir.