At a time when West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is claiming that ‘Constitution & democracy are in danger’ and ‘federal structure is being destroyed’ due to CBI probe into the Saradha & Rose Valley scams, it is pertinent to cast our mind back around 10 years when another CM was facing multiple probes by CBI and an SC-appointed SIT. How these two Chief Ministers responded to the questions asked of their state governments will clearly reveal who respects the rule of law & who doesn’t.
Mamata Banerjee went on an unprecedented show of political brinkmanship after the country’s premier investigative agency CBI visited the Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s home to question him for allegedly destroying evidence in the ₹2500 crore Saradha & ₹17000 crore Rose Valley ponzi scams. Kumar had ignored repeated summons by CBI to appear for questioning.
After CBI was prevented from questioning Kumar at his home (CBI officers were man-handled and even their families’ movement was severely restricted) , West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee went on a three-day dharna (protest) and accused the central government of attempting a “coup”. She ended her dharna after Supreme Court directed Kumar to appear before the CBI in Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital as it was a “neutral” place, and told the investigative agency to not arrest the top cop.
Why did SC order CBI to probe Saradha, Rose Valley & other ponzi scams?
The fraud Saradha group operated through a network of more than 100 companies and several thousand agents arranged in a pyramidal structure who were encouraged by generous commissions to trap more people into buying the group’s illegal investment schemes. The design operated with the name ‘Saradha’, the name of sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa’s wife and spiritual partner which evokes deep respect among millions in Bengal.
About 1.7 million to 1.8 million depositors – mostly poor and lower middle class people from West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh – lost their money.
The Saradha scam and other ponzi schemes unravelled in 2013 after Saradha group chairman Sudipta Sen was arrested and spilled the beans on several high-profile TMC politicians – Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh (journalist turned politician, CEO of Saradha Media at ‘salary’ of Rs 16 lakh/month); Madan Mitra, sports and transport minister in Mamata Banerjee cabinet; Rajya Sabha MP Srinjoy Bose; TMC VP Rajat Majumdar (ex-DGP WB, director of Saradha Resorts at ‘salary’ of Rs 10 lakh/month).
Congress MP and Union cabinet minister Matang Sinh allegedly got Rs 28 crore, while Union Minister of Finance P Chidambaram’s wife Nalini Chidambaram allegedly got Rs 1 crore as ‘legal consultancy’ fees from Saradha group. Scam kingpin Sudipto Sen also reportedly bought CM Mamata Banerjee’s paintings for Rs 1.8 crore. TMC’s then national general secretary Mukul Roy (now in BJP) & ex-Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma (now in BJP and Assam finance minister) have also been named in the scam.
It was revealed that Saradha Group through riot-accused TMC Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Hassan Imran, also a founder member of banned outfit Student Islamic Movement of India, engaged Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Bangladesh, an extremist Islamic organisation, to move money out of Bharat. JeI used its brokerage from the laundering operation to fuel its violent protests against the 1971 war crime trials of its founders and to destabilise the Awami League government in Bangladesh.
The Rose Valley scam is a similar ponzi scheme, in which apart from scam kingpin Gautam Kundu, two TMC MPs Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Pal were arrested in 2016/17 under the Prevention of Corruption Act for receiving bribes (both are currently out on conditional bail). Last Oct, the two TMC leaders were summoned by ED (Enforcement Directorate) as well. Mamata brazenly defended her party MP, saying “It isn’t a big deal if I am to believe for argument’s sake that Sudip took Rs 2-3 lakh for the elections.” She also stated Amit Shah & Narendra Modi should be arrested, that ‘PM Modi does not understand Indian politics.’
It is said that almost 210 people, including few accused, have committed suicide due to these ponzi schemes.
Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar was heading the SIT set up by WB Govt. to probe the scams, but in May 2014 the Supreme Court transferred all investigations into the Saradha scam and other Ponzi schemes to the CBI (overruling WB govt. objections) due to inter-state ramifications, possible international money laundering, serious regulatory failures and alleged political nexus. “The (WB) state police has not been able to make any headway in the conspiracy angle, money trail and the seizure of the properties related to the scam,” the SC bench had said back then.
Last August itself CBI was planning to make a plea to the Supreme Court stating that non-cooperation by West Bengal police is slowing down Saradha Chit Fund Scam investigation. CBI had summoned Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar and three other IPS officers on August 24 for deposition on the scam, after Kumar had given CBI a miss on two previous occasions. All summoned officers were part of the SIT which was formed by Mamata Banerjee government in 2013. CBI found discrepancies between SIT’s investigation and witness accounts.
According to witnesses, the police had confiscated items like pen drive and diary. Sudipta Sen, the prime accused of the Saradha scam and chairman of the group has also said that these items were confiscated. However, there is no mention about these items in the seizure list.
Earlier it was thought that it will be demeaning for the state top cops to appear before CBI and meetings were arranged at other venues but even this proved to be fruitless.
Modi and the SC-monitored probes into Sohrabuddin Shaikh / 2002 riot cases
Now let us cast our mind back to 2 cases from the not so distant past where CBI/SC-appointed SIT was investigating Gujarat police and government for alleged illegality at a time when Narendra Modi was CM of Gujarat.
Notorious gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and associate Tulsi Prajapati were killed in two separate shootouts with police in 2005/06. At the time of his killing, Shaikh had more than 60 pending cases against him, ranging from murder, arms smuggling to extortion. He had links to underworld criminals like Abdul Latif and Dawood Ibrahim. 40 AK-47 assault rifles and about 100 grenades were reportedly recovered from Shaikh’s house in Jharania village of Ujjain district in 1995.
On April 24, 2007, Gujarat ATS (Anti Terrorism Squad) chief DG Vanzara was arrested by CID crime in connection with this encounter case – Vanzara remained in jail for over 7 years until his bail in 2015. He was finally discharged by a special CBI court in 2017.
Not satisfied with the Gujarat police probe, Shaikh’s family approached the Supreme Court, and in 2010 SC handed over the probe to CBI.
On July 23, 2010 CBI filed a chargesheet in the case against 38 persons including the then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah, the then Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria and senior IPS officials. 2 days later, CBI arrested Amit Shah and he was granted bail by Gujarat HC on Oct 29, 2010.
In 2012, SC transferred trial in the case from Gujarat to Mumbai as sought by the CBI to ensure a ‘fair’ trial. In 2014, a special CBI court in Mumbai discharged Amit Shah from the case. Fifteen other accused including Kataria and some IPS officials were also discharged subsequently. In 2015, ‘social activist’ Harsh Mander approached Bombay High Court to challenge Amit Shah’s discharge in the case, but his petition was dismissed. He appealed in SC, but was rejected there too.
In October 2017, the special CBI court started trial against 22 accused in the case. On Dec 21, 2018, the court acquitted all 22 accused in the case after observing that prosecution failed to establish charges against them. The special judge recorded that the investigation was “politically motivated” and that “CBI had before it a premeditated theory and a script intended to implicate political leaders.”
Apart from the Sohrabuddin case, lets also look back upon the various investigations into the 2002 Gujarat riots. In 2008, the Supreme Court also ordered the setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reinvestigate the Godhra train burning carnage and subsequent cases of post-Godhra rioting. The former CBI Director R. K. Raghavan was appointed to chair the SIT.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi became the first chief minister of any state to be questioned over a communal riot, when he was subjected to marathon questioning by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT for more than nine hours in 2010.
Emerging after the questioning at the SIT office in Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar, CM Modi said, “Under the Indian Constitution, the law is supreme. As a common man, CM, I am bound by the Indian Constitution and law. No one can be above the law.”
In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by the SC-appointed SIT. The SIT also rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots. In April 2014, the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over the SIT’s investigations and rejected as baseless a plea contesting the SIT report.
Here is what we can conclude from how Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi behaved in the face of investigations launched against their state police/administration by central agencies acting at the behest of Supreme Court –
1.) Respect for law
Modi co-operated fully with SC-appointed SIT & CBI, allowing them to function with full independence within Gujarat, even when his closest aide (Amit Shah) and several senior police officers (Vanzara etc.) were jailed for considerable period of time. The court’s stinging rebuke to CBI for working as per a political script (set by UPA) proved that the Sohrabuddin case was pure political vendetta, where the death of a dreaded criminal was converted into a cause celebre. On the 2002 riots, Modi weathered unprecedented abuse, demonization & dirty tricks by the media/activist/NGO lobby, submitted patiently to grilling by SIT and finally emerged unscathed after arguably the most exhaustive investigation into any riot in independent Bharat. Modi did criticize the Congress for misusing the CBI as a political weapon, but he never lost his respect for institutions or attacked the PM with crude language.
On the contrary, Mamata Banerjee has displayed a fascist intolerance for any criticism, has made several intemperate remarks against the PM (even calling for his arrest), and shown utter contempt for centre-state balance of power in a federal democracy. Her baseless cries of ‘fascism & tyranny’ over routine functioning of the country’s law & order machinery and her incitement to security forces to disobey the Union Government are dangerous for the integrity and security of the country.
While the Sohrabuddin encounter and 2002 riot cases had several shades of grey with regards to allegations levelled against the Gujarat state government, Saradha and other ponzi schemes in West Bengal are clear-cut scams which have dis-possessed lakhs of poor. Almost a dozen TMC MPs have either been arrested or linked to these scams and the Supreme Court transferred this investigation to CBI in May 2014, before the Modi Government took charge at the centre. So there is no basis whatsoever to Mamata Banerjee’s allegation that it’s all just a conspiracy, and that the centre is misusing CBI. Mamata has shown her penchant for bizarre over-reaction by terming a routine bi-annual country-wide Army data collection drive at highway toll plaza as “worse than Emergency”
If a senior IPS officer like Vanzara can be arrested in Gujarat and kept in custody for over 7 years, why can’t the same law apply with Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar – especially given that other serving and retired police officers have been charged in these ponzi scams? What is Mamata Banerjee so desperately trying to hide by protecting Rajeev Kumar?
2.) Use of brute force to quell dissent.
Time and again, Mamata Banerjee has unleashed her party cadre/goons on BJP and other opposition parties with brazen disregard for law & order. Each and every election in West Bengal has been marked by horrific violence & intimidation of voters and opposition party workers. This culture of political violence was normalized by the CPM regime under which WB suffered for over 30 years, and Mamata has continued the same. Now, she has gone to the extent of disallowing BJP from holding political rallies or giving landing rights to their choppers.
On the other hand, Modi ensured free & fair elections, minus any violence, at every level during his 12-year term as Gujarat CM. Despite being the target of a well-funded, global anti-Modi cottage industry and punching bag for the entire spectrum of left-secular politics, he never once lost his cool and indulged in the the pechhoney baansh (bamboo up the backside) kind of crude language Mamata often uses.
3.) Double standards displayed by media, intelligentsia, courts.
The main reason that Mamata Banerjee gets away with her dictatorial & reckless behavior is because she is not held accountable by key pillars of our state.
She has been anointed as one of the key leaders of the cabal of left-secular forces keeping the ‘communal, fascist Hindutva hordes’ (i.e. Modi) at bay, so all her sins are minimized or forgotten by our mainstream media, establishment intellectuals and Constitutional moralists.
The agenda of our mainstream media & Nehruvian intellectuals is clear for all to see, but what is equally worrying is the ambiguous stance taken by our courts in condemning Mamata’s actions and forcing her to implement the law of the land.
When all hell was breaking loose in the run up to West Bengal panchayat elections last year and opposition candidates were brutally stopped from even filing their nominations, Supreme Court dismissed a petition by BJP asking the Court to intervene in the nomination process & requesting deployment of Central forces – SC refused to intervene as “election process was ongoing” and asked State Election Commission to look into all “grievances”. Finally, a record 34% of seats were won ‘unopposed’ by TMC. A 20-year-old tribal Trilochan Mahato was hung from a tree with a chilling note stating – ‘This is what you deserve for working for BJP’ in the aftermath of these so-called elections.
BJP’s plans to conduct political rath yatras in WB in the run-up to 2019 elections is also going back & forth in courts after Mamata denied permission citing state intelligence inputs about law & order issues since the state had a ‘high proportion of minorities.’ Calcutta High Court initially allowed BJP to hold the rallies but a second bench set it aside, and now Supreme Court has asked BJP to seek a fresh nod from WB Govt. One would imagine that 9 months after a Govt ruthlessly crushes opposition in a panchayat election, the courts would be extra-sensitive to ensure the opposition’s fundamental right to assemble peacefully in a democracy, but Supreme Court decision making is increasingly becoming a mystery to common citizens.
Just yesterday, the Supreme Court declined a BJP plea challenging the state government order prohibiting the use of loudspeakers at its rallies during the months of February and March due to ‘school examinations.’ A political rally without loudspeakers – is the candidate expected to communicate via sign language? Will SC also order that all mosque loudspeakers are forthwith dismantled during periodic school exams?
In the whole Saradha scam centre-state standoff, the SC’s refusal to strongly back the investigative agency (CBI) which it itself has assigned to the case is extremely puzzling and unfortunately sends the wrong signals to society at large.
- Why did the SC decide that a ‘neutral’ place was required for mere questioning of a government servant? One can understand transferring trials out of a state to prevent misuse of state machinery, intimidation of witnesses etc, but an investigation can surely only be conducted in the place where the alleged crime took place? If the Kolkata Police Commissioner is ignoring repeated summons by CBI and withholding evidence, how will that missing evidence be uncovered if not by examining the police records, questioning the concerned police officials? Are interactions between the Union of Bharat and state of West Bengal now akin to a India-Pakistan dialogue where ‘neutral’ ground is required? This sets a very worrying precedent.
- Why did the SC bar the CBI from arresting Rajeev Kumar? It’s not like senior serving police or Army officers have not been arrested before – so why this blanket protection and exception on behalf of the WB Government? Again, this is a case where WB Police ex-DGP Rajat Majumdar was arrested in 2014, and Assam ex-DGP Shankar Baruah shot himself dead after his name cropped up during investigation, so the rot likely extends to the highest levels of police in the affected states.
- Shouldn’t allegations of a senior police officer destroying evidence be taken more seriously? SC did not come down heavily on WB police & government for making it impossible for a central agency like CBI to function, but asked the CBI & Union Government to produce evidence within a day that Rajeev Kumar destroyed evidence. While hearing the CBI application, SC said that it found “nothing” in the application. “If it’s electronic evidence, it can be retrieved again,” the CJI Gogoi said! When Solicitor General Tushar Mehta insisted that Kumar be asked to surrender, CJI said that he had read the papers submitted by the CBI and there was no evidence to suggest that he would. “You show us the evidence, we will come down with a heavy hand,” the CJI said. It is pertinent to remember that back in 2014, the SC itself had pulled up WB police for failing to make headway in the investigation, before transferring the investigation to CBI!
From all of the above, it appears that the judiciary too is not immune to the climate created by media and intelligentsia whereby Mamata Banerjee gets a free pass even after murdering the Constitution because she has adorned the outer paint of left-secularism. The impeachment motion bought against ex-CJI Dipak Misra because he did not toe the Congress (left-liberal) ecosystem’s line on delaying the Ayodhya RJB case hearing till after 2019 LS elections and also led a bench which rejected petitions seeking an investigation into the death of judge BH Loya, also seems to have met its objective of successfully intimidating judges.
4.) Entire spectrum of left-secular parties prove that they have just one agenda – attack Modi. This was true back in the last decade when Modi was battling 2002 riot allegations, and it is true now when Mamata is blocking CBI investigation into Saradha scam.
In an earlier article ‘How Corrupt & Nepotistic is ‘Secular, Progressive’ Politics?‘ we had analyzed how Congress and many ideologically similar regional parties like TMC – NCP, SP, BSP, RJD, AAP, TDP – exhibit the same traits. These parties can be called franchisees of the Congress model – spout secular, socialist jargon in manifestoes; appeal to caste, regional identities during elections; brazenly pander to Muslim and Christian votebanks; give free hand for loot and plunder to party leaders post elections; hand out just enough doles to keep the electorate happy but still in poverty.
Mamata had once said ‘Modi doesn’t understand Indian politics’ – it seems this ‘unreasonableness’ of Modi is what has made even her bitter enemy like CPM stand in solidarity with her today, what has brought an ‘anti-corruption crusader’ like Kejriwal to support her attempts to obstruct investigation in a mega scam, and what has brought a ‘defender of poor & dispossessed’ like Rahul Gandhi to her side despite lakhs of poor seeing life savings wiped out in said scam.
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