Unprecedented centre-state confrontation: Mamata resorts to sit-in after CBI-police face-off

KOLKATA: In a virtual no-holds-barred clash between the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Central and West Bengal governments, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee began a sit-in here on Sunday accusing the Centre of attempting a coup to destabilise the state after an ugly face-off between the CBI and the state police over the federal probe agency’s bid to grill city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with the Ponzi scheme scam case.

The showdown started after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officers showed up near the official residence of Kumar, a day after CBI sources said they were “looking for” him, and claimed he might be arrested if he failed to respond to the CBI’s summons.

Kumar, a 1989 batch IPS officer, headed the Special Investigation Team set up by the Banerjee government after the Saradha ponzi scam came to light in 2013, a year before the CBI took up the case on Supreme Court order.

On Sunday, the evening drama began as a group of CBI officers approached Kumar’s Loudon Street residence, but were stopped by city police personnel, who also forcibly took five federal probe agency officers to a police station.

The Chief Minister, who had extended support to Kumar earlier in the day, rushed to his house and was closeted with other top officers, including state police Director General Virendra.

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A visibly angry Banerjee came out of Kumar’s residence after over an hour, and alleged that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was giving instructions to the CBI at the behest of Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

“I am sorry to say National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is giving instructions to the agency. He is implementing what PM Narendra Modi is asking for,” Banerjee said.

“I will start a dharna (sit-in) at Dharamtala area to save institutions, constitution and the federal structure of the country. This is a satyagraha,” she said.

Minutes after she began the sit-in, the police commissioner and other officers, state ministers and Trinamool leaders joined her, and scores of ruling party activists converged in the area from Kolkata and nearby districts.

Mamta said a meeting of the state cabinet would be held on Monday at the sit-in venue to ratify the state budget slated to be presented during the day.

Banerjee said she would skip Assembly proceedings, but the House would continue as usual.

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Mamta also alleged CBI officers came to Kumar’s residence without any search warrant to conduct a secret operation.

“You are coming to the commissioner’s residence without any warrant to conduct a secret operation. It is (nothing but) instruction from Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.”

“There is a constitutional break-down and they are trying to organise a coup to destabilise the state. They are trying to run a parallel administration,” she told reporters outside the Commissioner’s house.

“I have come here because I have a constitutional and personal responsibility to give protection to my forces,” she said.

In a rare exhortation, Banerjee appealed to all security forces to be together and condemn the attitude of the Modi government.

She called the developments a ‘blow’ to the country’s federal structure, and claimed that the Supreme Court in its judgement had said both central and state agencies can discuss mutually if they have any queries.

Addressing the media at the sit-in venue, Banerjee said a large number of opposition leaders have telephoned her to back her movement.

“Leaders of various opposition parties, including Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Mayawati (BSP), Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Chandrababu Naidu (TDP), Omar Abdullah (NC), Ahmed Patel (Congress) and M K Stalin (DMK), have called me to extend their solidarity and support,” she said.

It all began around 6 p.m., when CBI officers, led by its deputy superintendent Tathagata Bardhan, were spotted near Kumar’s residence, but within a few minutes some senior Kolkata police officers rushed there and were seen having animated discussions with the federal team.

A little later, another CBI team reached the spot.

Meanwhile, a strong city police team was seen near the CBI’s state headquarters at CGO Complex in the Salt Lake area. However, they left after a couple of hours.

The drama intensified near Kumar’s residence around 7 p.m., as three deputy commissioners of city police and some officers of the anti-rowdy section reached the spot, following which there ensued a scuffle between the CBI team and cops.

The five CBI officers including Bardhan were bundled into three vehicles and taken to the Shakespeare Sarani police station.

They were released later in the night.

CBI Joint Director Pankaj Srivastava said his officers went to Kumar’s residence to question him, but were stopped from entering the house.

Meanwhile, the Central Reserve Police Force troopers have been deployed at the CBI headquarters at CGO Complex as also at its city office Nizam Palace.

Trinamool spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien said his party would raise the matter in Parliament on Monday.