Mamata ends sit-in, apex court asks Kumar to appear before CBI

KOLKATA:

Close to 45 hours after starting her 'save Constitution' dharna in the heart of the city, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday ended the sit-in to protest CBI's attempt to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in a probe into the ponzi scheme scam.

While calling off the demonstration, she announced a meeting of opposition leaders next week in the national capital, where the Supreme Court during the day directed Kumar to appear before the federal probe agency in Shillong.

The Trinamool Congress supremo, who recently played a pivotal role in knitting an anti-BJP alliance across the country, was joined by a host of senior opposition leaders during the course of her demonstration. 

These included Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and DMK MP Kanimozhi apart from her party leaders, intellectuals, celebrities and thousands of Trinamool activists.

Hearing a case filed by the CBI, the Supreme Court directed Kumar to appear before the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Saradha cheat fund case in Shillong "on such date(s) as may be fixed and to "fruitfully cooperate with the investigating agency at all times".

It also asked the agency not to take any coercive action including arrest against the officer.

On a contempt petition filed by the CBI, the court directed the state chief secretary, the director general of police and the police commissioner to file their replies on or before February 18.

Shortly after the verdict, both the Centre and the Banerjee government in the state hailed it as a "moral victory".

"It is a moral victory for the CBI. The Supreme Court's order is clear -- the Kolkata Police Commissioner, who was not appearing before CBI despite notices, will have to appear before them now," said Union Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the media outside Parliament.

"It is our moral victory. We said we have full respect for the judiciary and institutions," Banerjee told the media from the dais of her sit-in protest here.

"This order was passed earlier also that they can talk mutually in a mutual place. We are grateful for the verdict.

"Rajeev Kumar never said he would not cooperate. He gave five letters to the CBI asking the officials to meet him at a mutual place, but they went to his house to arrest him in a secret operation.

"Today the court said no arrest... We welcome the verdict. It will strengthen the morale of the officials," Banerjee said in the afternoon.

In the evening she announced the sit-in was being withdrawn, terming her dharna a victory for the "people, country and democracy" and said she was ending it as requested by senior opposition party leaders after the Supreme Court verdict.

Meanwhile, the Centre asked the Bengal government to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Kumar for participating in a street protest with Banerjee, an action that comes on top of an unprecedented stand-off between the two governments for the last three days.

The MHA letter sent to the Bengal government on February 5 claimed Kumar sat in a dharna (protest) along with some police officers with the Chief Minister at the Metro Channel in Kolkata "which is prima facie in contravention of the extant provisions of a AIS (Conduct) rules, 1968/AIS (Discipline and Appeal), Rules 1969".

Banerjee, with Naidu by her side, strongly refuted the Centre's allegations and launched a scathing attack at the Centre for trying to control the "state machinery".

Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of trying to control "even the state-run agencies", she demanded that Modi resigned and went back to the role of Gujarat Chief Minister if people re-elected him.

Echoing Banerjee, her Andhra Pradesh counterpart Naidu also hailed the apex court verdict, terming it as a "victory for Constitution, democracy and all constitutional bodies".

On the other hand, addressing a rally in Purulia, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath accused Banerjee of trying to protect Kumar from the ongoing CBI probe and hailed the Supreme Court verdict.

Flaying Banerjee for her actions, Adityanath said, "Nothing can be more shameful in a democracy than a state chief giving shelter to the corrupt".

"A chief minister herself tries to protect a corrupt officer -- nothing can be more shameful than this in a democracy. He must meet the CBI and reveal who all are involved in the Saradha scam," said the BJP leader.