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Standoff: Modi vs Didi

On the trail of police chief, CBI steps into political minefield
Mamata Banerjee addresses the media after coming out of Calcutta police commissioner Rajeev Kumar's residence in Calcutta on Sunday evening.
Mamata Banerjee addresses the media after coming out of Calcutta police commissioner Rajeev Kumar's residence in Calcutta on Sunday evening.
PTI

TT Bureau   |   Calcutta   |   Published 03.02.19, 09:11 PM

An unparalleled confrontation between the Centre and the state leapt from seats of power to the street on Sunday after the CBI and Calcutta police tussled over an attempted questioning of city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, and Mamata Banerjee threw her weight behind the decorated officer by spearheading an indefinite dharna of public representatives and the IPS brass.

By night, the issue appeared to have snowballed into a full-fledged political battle that is expected to be fought on multiple fronts, including the pre-election arena and the courts.

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Mamata sat on dharna at the Metro Channel from 9pm, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah of using the CBI to undermine the Constitution. She said she would run the state government from the site and hold the key cabinet meeting before the state budget there on Monday afternoon.

Between 6pm and 10pm, the city witnessed this sequence of events:

  • CBI officers pulling up in two vehicles in front of Kumar’s official residence in Loudon Street, apparently to question him in the Saradha case;
  • Calcutta police physically dragging a CBI driver and an officer to a police van, and later driving several agency officers to a police station and detaining them for a while;
  • State police teams cordoning off the CBI offices in Calcutta (Nizam Palace) and Salt Lake (CGO complex);
  • Mamata rushing to Kumar’s residence and getting closeted in a meeting;
  • Traffic stopped on Loudon Street for around an hour for a news conference by the chief minister on the road;
  • Mamata announcing the indefinite dharna;
  • Central forces being posted around the CBI offices at night.
  • Preparations on both sides to petition the Supreme Court on Monday.
  • Opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, calling Mamata to pledge support.

“I am deeply anguished. The manner in which Modi and Shah are trying to take control of Bengal is unprecedented,” Mamata told reporters.

“They (the CBI) did not come with any document. If you have a search warrant, if you have documents, you can come, but they have none.”

Mamata and the police cited a December 8 Calcutta High Court order that they said had restrained the CBI from enforcing the summons it had served on Kumar.

After Kumar and several other police officers had complained of receiving agency summons well after the dates fixed for questioning had passed, the bench of Justice Shivakant Prasad had posted the matter for hearing on February 13.

Kumar had been caught in a tussle with the CBI over the past year or so in connection with a probe he headed into the Saradha case, a deposit-mobilising scam in which lakhs of depositors had lost their savings.

While the state police had kicked off the probe, the central agency stepped in following the apex court’s orders. The CBI says it received no cooperation from state agencies and that Kumar destroyed key evidence related to the case.

“Our team visited his home this evening to question him. Had he not cooperated, we could have thought of our next course of action,” said Pankaj Srivastava, the agency joint director who looks after its operations in the east.

Asked whether the team had the necessary documents to interrogate the senior officer, CBI sources said they didn’t need any as they had been conducting the probe under the Supreme Court’s orders.

But a retired CBI joint director told this newspaper in Delhi that since the apex court was not monitoring the case, certain permissions were necessary.

Mamata said she and the state’s officers were being targeted because of the show of Opposition unity she had organised on January 19 at the Brigade Parade Grounds.

The showdown created a flutter on social media, with many users calling it a stage-managed drama by “Modi and Didi” while others went after “caged bird” CBI and expressed support for the chief minister.

It was about 6.10pm when seven CBI officers led by DSP Tathagata Bardhan arrived at Kumar’s residence. They were intercepted by the officer-in-charge of Shakespeare Sarani police station, Amit De Sarkar, who asked why they had come. To question Kumar, Bardhan told him.

Forty-odd CBI sleuths from the CGO complex had arrived in and around Loudon Street by then, setting the stage for a confrontation. DCP (south division) Meeraj Khalid asked the CBI officers to leave the high-security zone.

Bardhan and his men were forced to move to the Loudon Street-Short Street crossing. But the CBI officer was soon walking back towards Kumar’s residence, speaking on the phone to his superiors. This time he and his men were obstructed physically.

“I’m a police officer, as are you. Is this expected from you?” Bardhan asked Sarkar before he left the place in his car. He returned shortly but all the sleuths remained inside the cars.

As the CBI team awaited instructions from superiors, police reinforcements started arriving around 6.45pm, from the Hare Street, Bowbazar, Park Street and Kalighat police stations.

Around 7pm, the cops dragged a CBI driver to a police vehicle and whisked him away. Hearing of this, Bardhan stepped out of his vehicle and ran after the police vehicle. A few cops then dragged another CBI officer into a vehicle and drove off with him.

As Bardhan walked back to his car, Calcutta police personnel were heard yelling: “Dhor, dhor (catch him, catch him).”

Bardhan boarded a Tata Sumo with his colleagues. A group of 30-odd policemen surrounded the vehicle and started thumping on its bonnet, directing the driver to start the car and leave the place.

The driver started the SUV but stopped the engine immediately after Bardhan asked him to ignore the police.

After a bit of jostling, a policeman forced himself into Bardhan’s vehicle. Another cop dragged the driver out and drove the vehicle --- with the CBI officers inside --- to the police station. The other CBI vehicle left the scene.

“What the city police did this evening is shameful,” a CBI officer said, asking not to be identified.

More reinforcements reached Kumar’s residence and turned it into a fortress. It soon became clear that the chief minister was coming.

She arrived around 7.30pm and her car entered the compound. Senior policemen such as state police chief Virendra, special security adviser Surajit Kar Purakayastha and ADG (law and order) Anuj Sharma arrived too.

Around 8.30pm, Mamata came out and held a news conference on the street, announcing her dharna as well as the release of the CBI officers. Shortly, the police teams outside the CBI offices at Nizam Palace and the CGO complex too left. The central forces were soon deployed around these offices.

“Our offices have important documents and files,” Srivastava explained.



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