West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called off her sit-in protest on Tuesday evening after the Supreme Court forbid the Central Bureau of Investigation from taking coercive action against Kolkata police chief Rajeev Kumar but vowed to wage a relentless battle against the Narendra Modi government till it was ousted from power.
Banerjee, who dramatically began the dharna on Sunday evening over the CBI’s bid to question Kumar, in a throwback to her street fighter politician past, said she was ending the protest following a “favourable” Supreme Court order after
consulting leaders of like-minded political parties.
“I will not give up... Modi hatao, desh bachao (oust Modi, save the country. The dharna is a victory of the people, of the country, of democracy. I will now take the fight to Delhi,” she told a gathering of her supporters with Telugu Desam Party supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu by her side.
The stormy leader had begun the protest claiming that the spirit of “Constitution and federalism” was being stifled by the Modi government after a CBI team went to quiz the Kolkata police commissioner Sunday evening in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam case, setting the stage for a fresh
confrontation with the Centre.
CBI officials were dragged by Kolkata police, bundled into vehicles and detained, in a development Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh dubbed as “constitutional breakdown”.
Banerjee, one of the prime movers behind the effort to cobble together an anti-BJP alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, drew support from over 20 opposition parties as she claimed the Centre was plotting a “coup” to topple her government.
Asserting that opposition parties will take the fight against the Modi government to a “logical conclusion”, Naidu said their leaders will meet in the national capital on February 13-14 to chalk out an agitational programme.
“Democracy is in danger. Everybody is under threat. If anybody raises his voice, you throw them in jail. Is it Emergency? It is worse than Emergency,” he said.
Naidu said he, as a representative of 23 opposition parties, and Banerjee spoke to Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, his Samajwadi Party counterpart Akhilesh Yadav, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham chief M K Stalin and former Union minister Sharad Yadav, and all favoured immediately calling off the dharna.
“But the fight will not end here. We will fight in Delhi. We will take it to a logical conclusion,” Naidu declared.
Banerjee called off her protest hours after the Supreme Court directed Rajeev Kumar to appear before the CBI and “faithfully” cooperate in the probe in the Saradha chit fund scam case but said he must not be arrested, an order which both Banerjee and the Centre claimed was their moral victory.
The Banerjee-Centre face-off resonated in Parliament for the second day running, with proceedings getting disrupted amid protests by opposition parties, including the TMC, SP and Congress, over alleged misuse of the CBI in West Bengal.
Banerjee said the court direction that no coercive steps, including arrest of Kumar, will take place during the course of investigation, is “our moral victory and boost the morale of civil servants”.
The Centre, however, insisted the court order directing Kumar to make himself available before the CBI was a “blow” to the Banerjee government and a moral victory for the investigating agency.
Welcoming the order, senior BJP leader and union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in New Delhi it showed that nobody is above the law, including the police commissioner.
Echoing Prasad’s views, Union minister Smriti Irani said political histrionics of Banerjee have been brought to a screeching halt by the apex court.
The apex court directed that Kumar will appear before the CBI for investigation in Meghalaya capital Shillong, and no coercive steps, including his arrest, will take place during the course of the probe.
The federal probe agency has accused Kumar of tampering with electronic evidence and claimed that the Special Investigation Team of West Bengal police headed by him provided the agency with “doctored” material.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also issued a notice to Kumar seeking his response to the allegations before February 20, the next date of hearing.
However, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the West Bengal police, rejected the allegations of the CBI, and called those an attempt to “harass and humiliate” Kumar.
Singhvi said till now no FIR has been lodged against Kumar and he has not even been made an accused in any of the cases arising out of the chit fund scam.
Lakhs of depositors in several eastern states including West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand were duped by the promoters of Saradha and Rose Valley groups of their hard earned money. The size of the Saradha swindle is pegged at roughly Rs 4,000 crore and that of Rose Valley a staggering Rs 15,000 crore.
Banerjee’s dharna opposite Metro cinema brought back memories of the 26-day hunger strike she undertook 13 years ago at the same place against “forcible” land acquisition in Singur by the then Left Front government for Tata Motors’ Nano
The feisty West Bengal leader’s 46-hour dharna this time also dominated the national TV coverage over the last two days and underscored how crucial she is for the opposition’s efforts to forge a broad-based alliance to take on the Modi dispensation.