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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 8 New Delhi February 9, 2019

Mamata emerges as a Focal Point of the National Opposition

Sunday 10 February 2019

by Nityananda Ghosh

The sordid drama that started unfolding with a carload of CBI officials appearing out of the blue in front of the Kolkata Police Commissioner’s residence in the city on February 3, 2019, with the attempt to barge into the building turned out to be a massive confrontation between the Centre and the State as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vs the entire Opposition except the CPI-M which chose to isolate itself from the Opposition ranks. The Supreme Court on Tuesday (February 5, 2019) directed the Kolkata Police Commissioner, Rajeev Kumar, to appear before the CBI and faithfully co-operate in the investigation of cases arising out of the ponzi scam, while making it clear that he will not be arrested. The Supreme Court issued the following directives on a petition linked to the standoff between the CBI and West Bengal Government.

• Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar should appear before the CBI and fully cooperate with the investigating agency.

• No coercive steps, including arrest, shall be taken against the Commissioner.

• In order to avoid all unnecessary controversy, the Police Commissioner should appear before the CBI in Shillong, Meghalaya (a neutral territory) on such date(s) as may be fixed.

• The West Bengal Chief Secretary, Director General of Police should file replies on or before February 18 pertaining to the contempt petition against them.

• On the basis of the replies, the officers will be informed on February 19 whether their presence is required in the Court on February 20.

The conspiracy to topple the West Bengal Government using Section 355 or 356 of the Cr.P.C. by the Central Government for violation of constitutional norms initially jolted public opinion before the Supreme Court rose to the occasion to give a verdict in favour of neither the CBI nor the State Government. Although the Court order was welcomed by both sides (the WB Government and Central Government), political circles think that the battle was won by the West Bengal Chief Minister at least in the first round.

The biggest gain for Mamata Banerjee is that she has positioned herself as a national trend-setter who struck back with ferocity when the Narendra Modi Government tried to browbeat her with an instrument called the CBI. On the other side, Union Minister Smriti Irani said that the West Bengal Chief Minister’s political histrionics have been brought to a screeching halt by the Supreme Court after the Court directed the Kolkata Police Commissioner to fully cooperate with the CBI in the ponzi scam probe. Union Minister Ravishankar Prasad too welcomed the order and said it was a blow to the Mamata Banerjee Government and a victory for the CBI. He further added that it also showed nobody was above the law, including the Police Commissioner. Arun Jaitley too accused Mamata Banerjee of ‘assaulting’ federalism and claimed that the real motive of her ‘disproportionate reaction’ to the CBI action in Bengal was to project herself as the ‘nucleus of India’s Opposition’. The truth has come out from Jaitley’s reaction.

The proponents of Mamata’s moral victory on the issue of the CBI’s intervention in the State opine that she has united the split Opposition in the battle against the Modi Government. Earlier on January 19 of this year she had assembled 23 Opposition leaders in her Brigade Parade Ground rally in Kolkata. This time she has consolidated her position by uniting all those leaders who came to Calcutta to show their solidarity and at the same time to launch a bigger anti-Modi Government campaign which will be held with a sit-in demonstration in New Delhi.

The 70-hour dharna, which began at Esplanade’s Metro channel in the heart of Kolkata following confrontation with the CBI that had sent a team to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar on February 3 in connection with the Sarada scam probe, was lifted hours after the Supreme Court directed the officer to ‘faithfully co-operate’ with the CBI but restrained the agency from taking any ‘coercive steps, including arrest’ against him. It is interesting to note that Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav has issued an open letter in English to reach out to the national audience. Excerpts from the letter applauding Mamata Banerjee and addressed to ‘all my fellow Indians’ read as follows:

“I write to you today because two-and-a-half men—and a media that has been corrupted by their sycophantic portrayal of these men—are on the brink of destroying our nation and everything it stands for...

“Today the attack on the State of Bengal is not only an attack on the values and tenets of the Constitution but also on the dreams of our founding fathers...

“In the last 24 hours, it is clear that the democratic republic ... is being systematically hollowed out and destroyed...

“The formula is simple—unfriendly politicians in power are to be embroiled in legal battles, buried under false charges, attacked as anti-national, accused of sedition and their States set aflame using whatever sectarian methods are at the disposal of this government that dreams of staying (in) power for 50 years.

“In attacking Mamata Banerjee, these two-and-a-half men forget her past. Here is a woman who was dragged from Jyoti Basu’s office by the hair for demanding an end to the patriarchy of the Communist Party in their bastion...

“I believe it is time for all Indians, regardless of their politics, their religion, their caste or the region to which they belong, to agree to two things: that the rule of law requires strong institutions, not weak officers who are weaponised against political opponents; and that elections should be fought at the polling booths, not by midnight raids, trumped up charges and lies.

“I call on our judiciary, the CBI, the IAS, the IPS and all our national institutions to prevail against the constant attacks on them and to fight back with integrity. I call on them to stand up for the process so that they do not act as the election agents for a particular party...”

Meanwhile in a statement, CPI-ML General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya too said his party strongly opposed the conspiratorial intervention in the State by the Narendra Madi-led Government at the Centre. Dipankar said:

“Ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Modi Government has launched a conspiratorial attack on the West Bengal Government on the pretext of a CBI probe in the Sarada scam. The growing clamour by the BJP leaders for imposition of President’s Rule in the State provides a clear pointer to the Modi Government’s ominous design against the Constitution and the federal framework. We strongly condemn this design and appeal to the democracy-loving people of West Bengal to oppose this criminal Central intervention using the CBI.

“The people of West Bengal have long been fighting for justice against the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund scams. By co-opting scamtainted leaders like Mukul Roy, the BJP cannot claim to be fighting against this scam. Indeed, today there are much graver allegations of corruption against the Modi Government, ranging from the demonetisation disaster to the controversial Rafale deal. Anti-corruption rhetoric by a government which has proved itself to be the biggest promoter of crony capitalism can only be treated as hypocrisy of Himalayan proportions.”

He, however, said the Left Front in Bengal was committed to resist every conspiracy of the BJP and the Central Government, while carrying forward its own battle against the growing corruption and tyranny of the Trinamul regime in the State.

Meanwhile the Polit-Bureau communique of the CPI-M called upon the people to fight against the BJP’s evil design. But its West Bengal counterpart still believes in the ‘setting’ theory between the Trinamul Congress and BJP. In this precarious condition observers are watching with bated breath how things develop and what shape they take in the next few months.

The author is a retired lecturer in Botany at the Cannning Bankim Sardar College, West Bengal and a social activist.

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