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  Opinion   Columnists  06 Jan 2017  As arrests hit TMC, testing time for CBI

As arrests hit TMC, testing time for CBI

The writer is an independent security and political risk consultant.
Published : Jan 6, 2017, 12:52 am IST
Updated : Jan 6, 2017, 6:16 am IST

The outsider has traditionally been regarded as the cause of all the state’s woes.

TMC MP Sudip Bandopadhyay being taken by CBI officers to Bhubaneswar for further inquiry who was arrested in connection with Rose Valley chit fund scam in Kolkata. (Photo: PTI)
 TMC MP Sudip Bandopadhyay being taken by CBI officers to Bhubaneswar for further inquiry who was arrested in connection with Rose Valley chit fund scam in Kolkata. (Photo: PTI)

West Bengal’s politicians have a penchant for casting themselves as underdogs, as the victims of imperialists, scheming capitalists, exploitative non-Bengalis and a pusillanimous Central government in New Delhi. The outsider has traditionally been regarded as the cause of all the state’s woes.

Under the three-decade-long Left rule, West Bengal’s ministers would routinely summon press conferences at Writers’ Buildings, the state secretariat, to fulminate against the Centre, which was made out to be the chief conspirator against the state.

The shadow of phantom conspiracies continues to haunt West Bengal’s current rulers, Trinamul Congress, headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Ms Banerjee is convinced that the government at the Centre, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is openly plotting to bring down her government. This “anti-people” policy is apparently being implemented with the connivance of Central law enforcement agencies, the Army and local BJP leaders.

Tension between Kolkata and New Delhi, which has been simmering for a while, spilled onto the streets following Tuesday’s arrest of Trinamul Lok Sabha leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay by the Central Bureau of Investigation for his alleged involvement in the Rs 17,000-crore Rose Valley chit fund scam.

Mr Bandyopadhyay was arrested on several charges, that included IPC Sections 420 (cheating), 408 (criminal breach of trust), 120b (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention), and sections of the Prize, Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act of 1978.

As news of his arrest spread through Kolkata, Trinamul mobs came out on the streets, targeting the BJP office in Kolkata, which was pelted with stones and several BJP workers assaulted. The CBI office in Kolkata as well as the house of BJP MP and Union minister of state for heavy industries and public enterprises Babul Supriyo, were also attacked by Trinamul hotheads.

There were reports of disturbances in the districts as well and some trains too were stopped by protesters.

A newspaper report quoted a local Trinamul leader, Sajal Ghosh, as saying: “We are within our rights to protest against the CBI turning a stooge for BJP’s whims and fancies. We organised the protest afternoon according to the CM’s orders.”

The response to Mr Bandyopadhyay’s arrest was predictable. An enraged chief minister claimed his arrest was the fallout of her struggle against demonetisation.

“We strongly condemn the politically vindictive attitude of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah,” Ms Banerjee said in a statement posted on Facebook. “They have arrested our parliamentary party leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay. He is a veteran politician and senior leader of our party.”

“It is all because of our fight against notebandi,” she claimed. “We are and will be with the people. Nothing can stop us from being with the people and we will continue with our protest against notebandi. The situation now is more than that of financial emergency — from financial to political emergency. We condemn, condemn and condemn this.”

But not everyone in West Bengal was convinced. Ms Banerjee’s Facebook post got more than 1,700 comments, mostly uncomplimentary, such as: “So everybody is targeting TMC... Madan Mitra, Kunal Ghosh, Tapas Paul, Sudip... don’t you see how corrupt your party is... but Didi… you don’t worry... we will keep you in Bengal for many years... just like 34 years of Left. Long story short, Bengal will get ruined...”

Another critic claimed: “This is justice for the lakhs of people who had been cheated by Rose Valley owner Gautam Kundu. We hope that the common people will get their money back in time. Well done CBI...”

These Facebook posts notwithstanding, there’s little doubt that many in West Bengal back Ms Banerjee in her tussle against Prime Minister Modi. The state’s political pundits aver that her rural base remain unassailable. The problem, they say, is restricted to parts of the Bengali middle class.

Irrespective of popular reaction, Mr Bandyopadhyay’s arrest could well be a turning point in the confrontationist relationship between Kolkata and New Delhi. The knives are out, and there can be no going back.

Much will depend on the CBI’s handling of the case. The problem is that the CBI’s credibility has taken a beating in recent times. Its motives have been questioned in several cases, while a former director has been accused of major improprieties.

The much bigger issue, of course, is that of the CBI’s independence, or lack of it; it is increasingly being seen today as an instrument of the ruling party at the Centre. The arrest of Mr Bandyopadhyay could well backfire if the CBI fails to conduct its investigations in a transparent manner and proves its allegations in a court of law.

Ms Banerjee’s strategy is to undermine the CBI by calling it Mr Modi’s personal handmaiden and questioning its impartiality. Her party leaders have also questioned the timing of Mr Bandyopadhyay’s arrest.

The investigation into the scam is after all not new but had been prompted by the Supreme Court way back in 2014. Investigations were dragging on for years and the CBI had been unable to close the case or nail all the main culprits.

Ms Banerjee also claimed that while the CBI had arrested Mr Bandyopadhyay, it had not touched Mr Supriyo, who was also said to be involved in the notorious Rose Valley Ponzi scam. The details of course were lost in the din of rhetoric. Mr Supriyo, while challenging Ms Banerjee to provide the CBI evidence of his involvement, admitted that as a singer he had performed for the firm and had got paid for his services just like so many other prominent artistes. “For an artist, it is not possible to check a company’s criminal and financial records. Moreover, all these functions were organised with the consent of the West Bengal police,” he said, claiming that he was being attacked because he was a “soft target”.

Mr Supriyo and other BJP leaders have sought President’s Rule in West Bengal. But as the confrontation between Ms Banerjee and the Centre intensifies, any such move will only reinforce the underdog image of West Bengal’s leadership and perhaps precipitate horrible anarchy in the state.

Tags: mamata banerjee, narendra modi, sudip bandyopadhyay