The last laugh
Mamata Banerjee remains resolute in her struggle for federal and institutional autonomy – the recent dharna to ‘Save the Indian Constitution’ was another moment to realise the unfailing commitment of Bengal’s Iron Lady
Once, a veteran politician had remarked to me, "On analysing Mamata's political decisions, we often felt that she was not correct. But, after some days, we realised that she was right and we were all wrong."
This is exactly what unfolded at the Satyagraha movement titled "Save the Indian Constitution", which Banerjee launched on the evening of Sunday, February 3. It soon became a national issue, eclipsing all other news. On Monday and Tuesday, national media's focus lay solely on Banerjee's dharna. The sops announced passionately by the current government in the interim Union budget took a backseat and all national leaders came forward to issue statements supporting Banerjee's dharna. BJP was pushed to the backfoot and, to veil its visible discomfort, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lauded the Supreme Court order which stated that the Commissioner of Police must appear before the investigating agency in Shillong on such dates as may be fixed. He called the order a victory for the CBI and democracy. In doing this, he chose to stay mute on the important part of the order which said, "We make it clear that no coercive steps including arrest shall be taken against the Commissioner of Police." Even the Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had observed that "no coercive steps shall be taken". These words are enough to support Mamata Banerjee's longstanding claim that the CBI is a puppet in the hands of the ruling party and is being compelled to take coercive measures. Thus, Mamata's venture to launch a Satyagraha became successful after she scored the winning goal. The Satyagraha also tempered fear in the minds of opposition leaders who have faced the CBI's wrath at every instance of dissent or critique. BJP leaders are naturally disturbed – from now, opposition leaders will be motivated to resist every unfair move of the CBI. The dharna also turned out to be another opportune occasion to unite the Federal Front against BJP.
It all began on Sunday, when a team of CBI officials led by a DSP raided the house of Rajeev Kumar, Commissioner of Police, on Loudon Street. On being apprised, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went to Kumar's house and, later, began a dharna at Esplanade.
"I talked to Surajit Kar Purkayastha, Chief Security Adviser, and Rajeev Kumar; both of them told me not to go to the latter's house as they can manage. But I told them that I have worked on the field and I will go because this is an attack on the Indian Constitution. She went to the house of Kumar and later began Satyagraha. "This is not a meeting of Trinamool Congress. I am here to protest against the onslaught on the Indian Constitution. Rajeev Kumar is the Commissioner of Police and heads the police force. How can you go to his house on a Sunday without any evidence or warrant?" Mamata asked.
In the past few years, since the CBI began its investigation into the Saradha scam following a Supreme Court order, it has adopted a unique method of arresting members of the police force and political leaders or other important persons with the sole purpose of harassing them.
CBI has been following the same method in treating all those who had been arrested in connection with chit fund cases including Trinamool Congress MPs Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Tapas Pal, Kunal Ghosh or persons like Madan Mitra, Srikant Mohta and Suman Chattopadhyay. First, the CBI issued notices asking them to appear for interrogation. The interrogation continued for several hours and, thereafter, they were arrested on grounds of discrepancies in their statements. All of them were taken to Odisha and kept in custody for three to six months and then released on bail. Political experts believe that CBI had tried to follow the same technique to nab Rajeev Kumar. "Even the officers who had gone to Kumar's house on Sunday knew that their action was illegal but had to carry it out following pressure from their political bosses," said a retired senior bureaucrat.
On Monday, both the houses of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were adjourned as MPs demanded a statement from PM Narendra Modi. MPs shouted slogans against Modi when Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemned Banerjee's action to support Kumar who had refused to cooperate with the CBI.
While addressing the gathering from the dharna manch, Banerjee said that Rajeev Kumar had written five letters to CBI expressing his willingness to meet them at a neutral place. But "CBI did not take cognizance of the letters". Banerjee welcomed the Supreme Court order describing it as a victory for "people of Bengal and India".
Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, while addressing the gathering said, "Under Narendra Modi, the country is not safe at all. He has always tried to stifle the voice of the opposition and put forward an image that there are two honest persons in India, namely, he himself and Amit Shah. Questions can be raised from where Shah's son had amassed so much money. What about the Rafale deal and why the contract was given to a company registered only 10 days before getting the contract?"
Tejashwi Yadav of RJD said that BJP had "insulted all institutions like CBI, ED or Income Tax and harassed leaders. This is an attack on the Indian Constitution and law-abiding citizens cannot accept this anymore."
The Federal Front rally, titled "United India", held on January 19, had seen 22 national leaders address the mass at Brigade parade ground. The dharna further intensified the move. The Federal Front is going to organise a two-day meeting on February 13 and 14. All opposition leaders, including Farooq Abdullah, Arvind Kejriwal, former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, MK Stalin, HD Kumaraswamy, Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi and Kamal Nath have supported Banerjee's move.
Banerjee is emerging as a national leader, largely because of her undaunted courage and determination to speak for the right thing at the right time. Within half an hour after demonetisation was introduced in November 2017, Banerjee had become the first person to protest, saying that it would affect the country's economic growth and hinder the convenience of common people. It may be mentioned that later, even top Economists like Raghuram Rajan and Amartya Sen have established that demonetisation had adversely affected the country's economic growth.
It is clear from the body language of BJP leaders that they stand visibly nervous. The party leaders had never thought that the opposition would be united. The alliance between SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh has been a matter of major concern for them. They also never thought that a dharna in Kolkata would uniformly attract the attention of all national leaders. BJP has also realised that sending the CBI or ED to harass and scare leaders will not be an easy task anymore.
Banerjee has reiterated that BJP will not get more than 135 seats in the Lok Sabha, though BJP leaders refuse to accept this and remain firm in their belief that they will again assume power. But, at the back of their minds, the nervousness is being burdened on institutions like CBI, whose authenticity is then reduced with the sole motivation of accomplishing politically fuelled moves.