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Mamata reloads Metro Channel missile

Mamata turns CBI's Saradha scam interrogation into a Centre-state issue

By TT Bureau in Calcutta

  • Published 4.02.19, 3:21 AM
  • Updated 4.02.19, 3:21 AM
Mamata Banerjee addresses journalists outside the house of commissioner Rajeev Kumar with director-general of police of Bengal Virendra (right) and mayor Firhad Hakim (behind Mamata).State security adviser Surajit Kar Purkayastha (behind Virendra) looks on.
Mamata Banerjee addresses journalists outside the house of commissioner Rajeev Kumar with director-general of police of Bengal Virendra (right) and mayor Firhad Hakim (behind Mamata).State security adviser Surajit Kar Purkayastha (behind Virendra) looks on. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Tathagata Bardhan (centre), the officer leading the CBI team, is forced into a vehicle outside the police commissioner’s house to be taken to Shakespeare Sarani police station. To his left is a Calcutta police officer and to his right a police driver.
Tathagata Bardhan (centre), the officer leading the CBI team, is forced into a vehicle outside the police commissioner’s house to be taken to Shakespeare Sarani police station. To his left is a Calcutta police officer and to his right a police driver. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

When in crisis, the Metro Channel is the place to go.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday evening began an indefinite dharna at the Metro Channel, rekindling memories of her 25-day fast at the same venue in 2006 to protest the land acquisition in Singur.

The dharna is for the “sake of the Constitution”, Mamata declared within hours of a CBI team arriving at the residence of Calcutta police commissioner Rajeev Kumar to question him in connection with the investigations into the Saradha case that he had headed.

The CBI officers claimed they had gone to Kumar’s home as part of the investigation being carried out under instructions from the Supreme Court.

Mamata, however, turned it into a Centre-state issue and launched an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, blaming them for the “politically motivated raid”. She said the CBI action was a threat to the Constitution.

“I am deeply anguished. The manner in which Modi and Shah are trying to take control of Bengal is unprecedented,” said Mamata, adding that the Modi government was taking these steps because it had realised that the BJP would lose the Lok Sabha elections.

“I will sit on a dharna, a satyagraha — as Gandhiji put it — at the Metro Channel. I want to save the Constitution, the federal structure,” she said.

Immediately after the announcement, the Metro Channel area was cordoned off and a decorator’s staff began constructing a podium and an anteroom. Mamata sat there with her cabinet colleagues and senior police officers.

Within minutes of Mamata describing the CBI raid as an assault on the federal structure by the Modi-Shah duopoly, she began receiving support.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the DMK’s M.K. Stalin, the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, the Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal, the TDP’s N. Chandrababu Naidu, the JDS’s H.D. Deve Gowda, the NCP’s Sharad Pawar, the RJD’s Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav, former BJP minister Yashwant Sinha, the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and the JMM’s Hemant Soren either tweeted their support or called up Mamata pledging to back her in her fight against the Centre.

Mamata said Rahul had called her.

“I spoke with Mamata Di tonight and told her we stand shoulder to shoulder with her. The happenings in Bengal are a part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions by Mr Modi & the BJP. The entire opposition will stand together & defeat these fascist forces,” the Congress president tweeted.

Over the past few months, Mamata has been trying to form a platform of regional parties to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

On January 19, she organised a rally, under the banner of United India, at the Brigade Parade Grounds to launch a nationwide initiative to oust the Modi government.

Standing outside commissioner Kumar’s home, Mamata linked Sunday evening’s CBI action to the success of the rally and accused Modi and Shah of trying to carry out a coup in Bengal.

“This is just because I organised the United India Rally on January 19…. I have specific information: on the day of the January 19 rally, CBI officers from here were specifically called,” she said.

Bidhannagar police commissionerate officers outside Salt Lake’s CGO Complex, where the CBI headquarters is located, shortly after the central agency arrived at Rajeev Kumar’s residence.
Bidhannagar police commissionerate officers outside Salt Lake’s CGO Complex, where the CBI headquarters is located, shortly after the central agency arrived at Rajeev Kumar’s residence. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

“They were told, ‘kuchh toh karo, kuchh toh karo (do something)’. Nageswara (acting CBI chief M. Nageswara Rao) was also called. This is vindictive politics.”

Mamata accused national security adviser Ajit Doval of masterminding the “plot” and instructing the CBI on how to go about “humiliating and torturing” Bengal.

The move to highlight the CBI action to bring together regional parties, a political scientist said, was a smart decision in the aftermath of the bitter power struggle in the central agency.

“The CBI’s credibility is at an all-time low… and she used that to label the raid as vendetta politics by the BJP. The fact that it has worked, at least till now, is clear because other regional party leaders have started rallying around her,” explained the political scientist, who did not wish to be named.

The dharna at the Metro Channel soon started to have an impact elsewhere in Bengal with Trinamul supporters blocking roads and organising protect marches.

Mamata announced late in the evening that protest marches would be held in every block of the state on Monday between 2pm and 4pm “without inconveniencing people”.

Within hours, Mamata — seated at the same site that had set the stage for her elevation from an Opposition leader to chief minister— had succeeded in outlining the contours of an anti-BJP movement.

“I appeal to all the parties that attended the United India rally, we must gather round and fight these things together. We must oust Modi. Modi hatao, desh bachao (Remove Modi, save the country),” she said.

  • 11.40am: Mamata Banerjee posts two tweets:

“The highest levels of the BJP leadership are doing the worst kind of political vendetta. Not only are political parties their targets, they are misusing power to take control of the police and destroy all institutions. We condemn this.”

“The Kolkata Police Commissioner is among the best in the world. His integrity, bravery and honesty are unquestioned. He is working 24x7, and was on leave for only one day recently. When you spread lies, the lies will always remain lies.”

  • 12.47pm: Calcutta police issue a statement on Twitter: “…Please take note that not only is the CP Kolkata available in the city, but has also been attending office on a regular basis, with the exception of 31.1.19, when he was on leave for a day.

All concerned may please take note that if any news is spread without proper verification, Kolkata Police will initiate strict legal action for defamation of both the CP Kolkata and Kolkata Police.”

Between 4.30pm and 5pm: Additional commissioner of police Jawed Shamim holds a news conference to make the same point

  • 6.10pm: CBI officers arrive outside Rajeev Kumar’s residence on Loudon Street, to be stopped by a police team led by deputy commissioner (south) Meraj Khalid.
  • 6.20pm: The CBI officers walk to Park Street police station to submit a document stating their intent to question Kumar. They are told the commissioner’s residence is under Shakespeare Sarani police station.
  • 6.30pm: Some of the CBI officers reach Shakespeare Sarani police station. The rest remain on Loudon Street.
  • 7pm: Calcutta police personnel force the CBI officers at Loudon Street into vehicles and take them to Shakespeare Sarani police station.
  • 7.30pm: Mamata reaches the police commissioner’s residence with top officials.
  • 8.15pm: Mamata holds news conference where she announces a dharna to “save” the country, its people and the Constitution. She alleges that Kumar was being victimised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, whose instructions were being implemented by national security adviser Ajit Doval. 
  • 8.35pm: CBI officers released on Mamata’s instructions.
  • 8.40pm: Mamata launches dharna in Esplanade.
  • 9.00pm: Kumar joins the dharna

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