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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 23, New Delhi, May 22, 2021

The West Bengal Arrests: The Politics of Vendetta | Barun Das Gupta

Saturday 22 May 2021, by Barun Das Gupta

The Kolkattans woke up on Monday morning and learnt that two ministers, Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, a former minister, Madan Mitra and a former minister and former mayor of Kolkata, Sobhan Chattopadhyaya, had been arrested by the CBI in connexion with the Sting Operation carried out by one Mathew Samuel around 2014 in which some Trinamool Congress leaders were allegedly seen taking bribe. Though law and order is a State subject, the CBI effected the arrests with the help of the CISF, keeping the State Government and the State police in the dark. The CISF surrounded not only the ministers’ homes but encircled the entire area as if mounting an operation against dangerous outlaws.

What is noteworthy is that the sting operation also showed two heavyweight TMC leaders, Mukul Roy and Subhendu Adhikari and youth leader Shankudev Panda. All three of them later defected to the BJP. Mukul Roy is now the all-India vice-president of the BJP, Subhendu Adhikari is the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly and Panda is a youth leader of the party. Their names are conspicuously missing from the CBI charge-sheet.

As the news of the arrests spread like wild fire across the city and the State, angry TMC supporters besieged the Raj Bhavan and the Nizam Palace where the CBI office is .located. The Governor, Jagdeep Dhankar, reacted, saying if “lawlessness” continued there would be “serious consequences”, hinting at but stopping short of actually using the words “President’s Rule.” An angry Chief Ministere, Mamata Banerjee, rushed to the Nizam Palace and started a dharna (sit-in) demanding that she be arrested along with her ministerial colleagues. She was in the Nizam Palace throughout the day, close to six hours.

Taking advantage of the public protests, the CBI moved the Calcutta High Court for transfer of the case to any court outside West Bengal

Meanwhile, sordid details of the circumstances in which the CBI obtained permission to arrest the ministers came to light. To arrest a legislator, the permission of the Speaker is necessary. But the CBI did a trickery. Before the new Legislative Assembly was constituted, the CBI took the permission of the Governor to effect the arrests The Governor maintained that as he was the “appointing authority” of the ministers, he had the right to give permission for the arrests. This was immediately challenged by the Speaker, Biman Bandyopadhyaya, who quoted Article 179 of the Constitution which states that even if the Assembly is dissolved, the Speaker continues to hold his office till a new Speaker is elected.

But the common man, the man in the street, took a common-sense view and saw things for what they were. The Governor was a willing instrument in the hands of the Modi-Shah duo which wanted to take revenge against the people of West Bengal for inflicting a humiliating defeat in last month’s polls. As TMC MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy put it, the duo which boasted of “capturing” West Bengal by winning 200 seats, was actually “given two hundred goals” by the TMC which won 200 plus seats. The case against the ministers was nothing but a political vendetta, pure and simple.

The CBI “virtually” produced the arrested leaders in the city’s Bankshall Court and demanded, first, their police custody and then their judicial custody. The lawyers for the accused pointed out that the CBI had completed the investigations and had submitted the charge-sheet. After this, there was no need for the CBI to seek their custody — whether police or judicial. The CBI countered with the stock argument that the arrested were “influential” people and if released could intimidate witnesses and tamper with evidence. The lawyers for the accused pointed out to the court that the accused had been free all these years and the CBI had never complained that they were either intimidating witnesses or tampering with evidence

After hearing both sides, the court gave bail to all the accused on furnishing two sureties of Rs. 25,000 each. The CBI then made a lightning move and approached the Calcutta High Court. The High Court stayed the lower court’s bail order and sent the accused to three days’ judicial custody till Wednesday. The High Court’s decision will be known only then.

What the TMC and the people of the State in general are angry about is that Firhad Hakim was in charge of the covid control operations. At a time when the covid pandemic is spreading fast and more and more people are being infected, his arrest will only severely disrupt the battle against covid. The CBI also knows this but they have to carry out their masters’ orders, whatever happens to the people of Bengal.

Whatever ruling the Calcutta High Court gives on Monday (or adjourns the hearing), there is no doubt that the Modi-Amit Shah duo will continue their jihad against the Trinamool Government in West Bengal. Both are vindictive and they have a loyal accomplice in the Kolkata Raj Bhavan. They are bent on dismissing the elected government headed by Mamata Banerjee, by any means and bring the State under their control through PR.

A long battle lies ahead of the people of West Bengal. They have to fight the fascist forces that care tuppence for the sanctity of the Constitution or the values of democracy and secularism that it enshrines. Secularism, in particular, is anathema to the BJP and its parent organization, the RSS, whose goal is to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra. In four years’ time, the RSS will observe the centenary of its foundation. It hopes the Modi Government will be returned to power again in the 2024 general elections and there will be no obstacle to India being declared as a Hindu Rashtra. The battle against the BJP is not just electoral, but political-ideological as well.

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