KOLKATA/NEW DELHI, February 4: A political firestorm raged on Monday as Mamata Banerjee’s sit-in protest against CBI’s bid to question Kolkata police chief in chit fund scam cases entered the second day, with the West Bengal chief minister declaring her agitation to save the “Constitution and country” will go on till the goal is achieved.
The ripple effect of political tremors in West Bengal were felt in New Delhi and several state capitals, as Banerjee’s combative posturing on the issue drew support from several regional satraps trying to sew up an anti-BJP alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
“This is a satyagraha and I’ll continue (it) till the country is saved…Constitution is saved,” the firebrand TMC boss told reporters at the protest site, as she escalated her confrontation with the Modi government, a day after an all-out war broke out between the two.
As Trinamool Congress workers took to streets burning effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, Union home minister Rajnath Singh called the developments in West Bengal “unfortunate and unprecedented” and indicative of a “breakdown of the Constitution”.
“There may be breakdown of Constitution in West Bengal…under the Constitution, the central government has been vested with the power to maintain normalcy in any part of the country,” Singh told the Lok Sabha.
“Whatever happened on Sunday indicates constitutional breakdown,” he said as a host of opposition parties threw their weight behind the feisty West Bengal leader.
Singh also sought a report from governor Keshari Nath Tripathi which was promptly sent by Raj Bhavan. Its contents were, however, not immediately known.
The failed attempt by the CBI to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams on Sunday became the latest flashpoint between the BJP-led Centre and Banerjee, one of its bitter critics. The CBI has accused Kumar of destroying evidence related to the two fraud cases.
A CBI team was bodily prevented from entering the residence of Kumar by Kolkata police personnel, bundled into vehicles, and detained. Contingents of West Bengal police also descended on CBI premises in the city, as a furious Banerjee rushed to Kumar’s residence before beginning a dharna opposite Metro Cinema, one of Kolkata’s landmarks.
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.
Several TMC leaders including parliamentarians like Kunal Ghosh, Srinjay Bose, Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Tapas Pal, besides state minister Madan Mitra were arrested for their alleged links with the two chit fund companies.
As the political temperature soared, with TMC workers and supporters blocking trains and holding protests, Banerjee said, “We want a peaceful demonstration.
Please do not burn any effigies here.”
“Save the Constitution, save the federal structure, save the police force, save the Indian Administrative Service and all ranks of civil service from disaster,” read the banner that fluttered on the dais Banerjee has made her home since Sunday night.
Support for the West Bengal leader poured in from far off Chennai, Amaravati and Bengaluru, with regional satraps backing her in her fight against the Centre.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu alleged in Amaravati that the BJP government was acting with vengeance against Banerjee as the opposition parties’ rally in the West Bengal capital on January 19 was a great success.
Expressing solidarity with Banerjee, the TDP supremo said, “Cases against those who surrender to the BJP are being lifted. They are digging out old cases against those who oppose the BJP. The recent Kolkata rally was successful, hence the vengeance against Mamata Banerjee.”
“The BJP is deriving pleasure by foisting cases against opposition leaders. They are destroying constitutional institutions,” he alleged.
Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda said in Bengaluru the face-off reminded him of the Emergency days.
“I am shocked to learn about the CBI rushing to arrest the Police Commissioner and subsequent developments in West Bengal. The country has faced similar kind of unconstitutional methods during the Emergency. Situation in WB is similar to that of the Emergency days. #SaveDemocracy,” the JD(S) national president tweeted.
DMK chief M K Stalin also lent support to Banerjee in her endeavour to “save democracy”.
“The independence of every institution has been compromised under this fascist BJP Government. I stand with @MamataOfficial Didi in her fight to protect the federal structure of this country and to save democracy. #SaveDemocracy,” Stalin, who had attended Banerjee’s Kolkata rally last month, said in a tweet.
The Modi government also came under heavy opposition fire in the Lok Sabha where the BJD, which had hitherto kept silent over the development, threw its weight behind the West Bengal chief minister.
BJD leader B Mahtab said the development smacked of impropriety and also raised questions about the integrity of the CBI.
“We are not a banana republic…,” he said, adding the CBI was becoming a “political stooge and political weapon” in the Centre’s hand.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge charged that the government was using the CBI as a weapon to finish the Opposition and put in place an autocratic regime.
The fight also resonated in the courtrooms in New Delhi and Kolkata.
The CBI moved the Supreme Court accusing the Kolkata police chief of destroying evidence in the chit fund scam cases and the top court decided to hear the matter on Tuesday.
The apex court said it will be open for the solicitor general or any other party to lay before it any material or evidence to show any West Bengal authority or police official was planning or trying to destroy evidence in the Saradha case.
On the other hand, the West Bengal government moved the Kolkata high court against the CBI’s attempt to question the city police chief and sought immediate hearing. The court, however, declined its prayer. (PTI)