Mamata Banerjee roars. Mamata Banerjee mews. On September 12, she took out a massive rally to protest the perceived threat of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) being applied across the country. “I dare the BJP to touch a single person in Bengal till I am alive,” she warned. On September 18, she met Prime Minister Modi in Delhi and did not raise her burning concern about the NRC. Next day, she met Union home minister Amit Shah and did raise NRC with him, but toned down her menacing stand. “I raised the issue of Assam NRC with the home minister…,” she told reporters. “I spoke to him about the exclusion of 19 lakh people out of the Assam NRC; some of them are Hindi-, Bengali- and Gorkha-speaking people, genuine Indian voters.” She blithely declared that the issue of an NRC in Bengal was not discussed. “He did not talk of NRC in Bengal, and there is no need for NRC there,” added Mamata.
Gone was the intransigent objection to NRC. Instead, in a significant climbdown, she mumbled about her reservation against the Centre’s policy of leaving out genuine citizens from the NRC list in Assam.
Indeed, what with Modi and Shah being her chosen bêtes noire during an ill-tempered Lok Sabha election campaign, this belies explanation. That is, unless one connects it with contingent political developments in West Bengal. After the Modi government began its second term, several senior TMC leaders, MPs, and IPS officers close to the party and allegedly linked with various Ponzi schemes are feeling the heat. Senior TMC MPs Sudip Bandopadhyay, Tapas Pal and former minister Madan Mitra and others were arrested earlier; some more were interrogated repeatedly. Now, the dragnet is drawing more politicians, artistes, journalists and others into the CBI/ED probe.
At the top of the list is Rajeev Kumar, former Commissioner of Police, Calcutta, and currently Additional DG (CID), West Bengal. The ‘super cop’ is close to the CM and in state BJP circles, it is claimed that the road to Mamata and her family lies through him. He headed the SIT entrusted with probing the Saradha chit fund scam by the state government. After the CBI took it over on the direction of the Supreme Court, it complained of Kumar’s non-cooperation. Later, the CBI claimed that Kumar might be accused of destroying and withholding vital evidence, including call data records (CDR) of a key accused, regarding Saradha, Rose Valley, Tower Group etc—all ponzi firms, all alleged donators to the TMC coffers.
Following the allegations, Kumar was interrogated in Shillong at the instance of the SC in February. But high drama preceded that—when CBI officers tried to interrogate Kumar at his official residence, they were whisked away to the nearby police station and detained there for a brief spell by the state police. By then, Mamata had raised the bogey of the Centre’s unwarranted interference in the state’s matters. An impromptu sit-in against the move lasted three days.
Now, the CBI wants to interrogate him further and sent him several notices, but Kumar has gone into hiding and evaded them with one plea or the other through his lawyer. After playing elusive for weeks, Kumar’s plea for anticipatory bail was rejected by the sessions court on September 21. The plea is now being heard in the Calcutta High Court. The CBI has issued a ‘lookout’ notice, but Kumar has not been tracked till date.
The CBI has been questioning more politicians and other prominent people in the Saradha scam case. Already, filmstar Prasenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta have been questioned.
The Customs department has also started investigating with renewed vigour the case of Rujira Narola, wife of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew and second-in-command. In March 2019, Rujira alighted from a Bangkok-Calcutta flight with two kilos of gold. When she tried to leave the airport, she was detained by Customs officials. But senior police officers rushed to the airport, overruled the officials and helped her leave with her baggage intact.
All these developments have made Mamata and her party vulnerable, forcing her to tone down her stridency at crucial junctures. The same firebrand who spurned an invite to attend a NITI Aayog meeting a few months back has herself sought an appointment with both Modi and Shah, prompting BJP national secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya to say that it was a “last-ditch” effort to save Kumar from impending arrest. Mamata was aware, he said, that the dark secrets Kumar is hiding could send most of her cabinet members to jail.
By Rajat Roy in Calcutta