On Sunday morning, Kolkata woke up to over a million people arriving at the Brigade Parade Grounds for a massive show of strength organised by the Left Front. The slogans from the rally denounced both the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee Government in the State. By evening both – the Centre and the State governments -- were locked in a dramatic and unprecedented battle for brinkmanship. This served the common purpose of diverting attention from the rally – but also hinted at the desperation of both Modi and Banerjee to upstage one another in the upcoming general elections.
What sparked off the evening incident was the arrival of a team of about 40 Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sleuths to ostensibly question Kolkata city police chief Rajeev Kumar on the infamous Saradha Chit Fund scam in which over 17.4 lakh small investors (from West Bengal mainly, but also from Assam, Tripura and Odisha) were defrauded of an estimated Rs.3,000 crore over 2008-13. Kumar had headed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up to probe the scam.
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Five years ago, in 2014, the Supreme Court had handed over the whole investigation to the CBI because many bigwigs appeared to be involved, including several Trinamool Congress leaders. The Modi government, which controls the CBI, sat on its hands this whole time. What’s more, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre even embraced some of the key accused, including TMC MP Mukul Roy and Congress MP Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Now that the all-important Lok Sabha elections are weeks away, and West Bengal with 42 seats, is one of the key targets for the BJP, the Modi government has unleashed its pet weapon – the ‘caged parrot’, CBI – against the Mamata Banerjee-led government. The attempt to question and arrest Kumar was to turn the screws on the TMC in West Bengal and drag it into a legal quagmire.
This is nothing new to the Modi-Shah duo’s electoral strategy. Whenever faced with a difficult political position, they have no hesitation in using the state machinery, especially CBI, to arm-twist opponents, or even settle factional battles in other parties.
In recent years, the CBI has been used against several Congress leaders, like Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former chief minister of Haryana, wife and son of former Finance Minister P.Chidambaram, certain leaders of the AIADMK (representing one faction), and most recently, against Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
In West Bengal’s Saradha case, as in the other cases mentioned above, it is not as if the people being moved against are proved innocent. That is a matter for the courts to decide. What is at issue here is that the timing of legal moves against them smacks clearly of political motivation rather than a search for truth or justice.
The West Bengal incident is a showcase for such selective political use of the CBI for arm-twisting. For five years, the CBI has beating around the bush, and then suddenly develops this zeal and rushes in for a clandestine operation.
Seen in the context of other examples of CBI’s misuse, and the recent revelations of the cesspool of corruption that the CBI itself has become, and the growing attack on government institutions ranging from the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, Central Information Commission, Central Vigilance Commission, subversion of democratic principles in state Assemblies, and open calls to violate the law of the land or apex court orders (Sabarimala), the BJP government’s move in West Bengal is nothing short of wilful use of power for its own vested interests.
Saradha Scam Sidelined
Mamata Banerjee’s response of directing the arrest of the CBI sleuths, sitting on an all-night dharna etc. is equally hypocritical, considering she has been running the state like a tinpot dictator, with her party’s goon squads terrorising common people, launching violent and murderous attacks on opponents, especially from the Left, capture of institutions (just like the BJP) and forcible “winning” elections through intimidation and terror.
In effect, what is happening now in Kolkata will bury the Saradha chit fund scam beneath the political debris of this tussle between Modi and Mamata, and the culprits – the netas who are now enjoying the money looted from lakhs of common people – will continue to remain untroubled.
These events will also be used by both these political formations – and by apologists in the media -- to keep the focus firmly on themselves in the run-up to the general elections. All the lofty words being bandied around BJP leaders like “constitutional breakdown” and “crusade against corruption” are as empty as Mamata Banerjee’s “defence of Constitution” and “saving the federal structure”.
What would really serve the ends of justice would be if not only are all culprits, irrespective of which party they belong to, punished, but their properties confiscated in order to compensate (with interest) the losses suffered by poor people. The power-crazed drive of the ruling BJP to subvert democracy and intimidate the Opposition is sure to meet its end in the coming elections.