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The political cost of Rajeev Kumar’s disappearance | Opinion

Most political watchers believe that Trinamool Congress chief will pay the price for the disappearance of Kumar who has virtually vanished since the Calcutta high court lifted his protection from arrest on September 13.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2019 17:00 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
The stakes are high for Mamata Banerjee and with each passing day Rajeev Kumar remaining ‘underground’ is adding to the ruling party’s burden.
The stakes are high for Mamata Banerjee and with each passing day Rajeev Kumar remaining ‘underground’ is adding to the ruling party’s burden.(HT image)
         

From morning walkers to youth at roadside tea stalls to people in overcrowded ferry services, one discussion is dominating political space in West Bengal. That is, former Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar is not the “real target” of the Central Bureau of Investigation but Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is.

Most political watchers believe that Trinamool Congress chief will pay the price for the disappearance of Kumar who has virtually vanished since the Calcutta high court lifted his protection from arrest on September 13.

“There is no doubt that he has concealed certain very important papers that are related to the supremo of the Trinamool Congress presumably. If he continues to remain traceless for long it will have an adverse effect on the people of West Bengal and for that Mamata Banerjee would have to pay a price in the next elections,” said Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, former Presidency College principal and political science professor.

“With winds of anti-incumbency, the Saradha scam is being revisited. Pressure is being mounted on all fronts. Rajeev Kumar’s disappearance is the icing on the cake,” Rajat Roy, political commentator associated with Calcutta Research Group.

The Saradha scam has dogged Mamata Banerjee since the summer of 2013, when thousands of depositors, mostly deom the poor and lower middle class, began demonstrating on the roads of Bengal after losing about Rs 2,500 crore in the unlicensed fund that several ruling party leaders were seen being associated with.

The scam also created a few dubious firsts. The chief minister’s cabinet member and a close associate Madan Mitra became the first minister in the state to go to jail. Kunal Ghosh, a Rajya Sabha MP from the ruling party, also spent more than two years behind the bars. Several MPs, legislators and Trinamool leaders were questioned by the CBI and the ED.

However, Mamata Banerjee never paid an electoral price for the scam. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, despite Narendra Modi himself bringing up the Saradha malpractices in public meetings in Bengal, her party won 34 of the 42 seats in the state and succeeded in keeping the Modi wave at bay. In the 2016 assembly elections, Trinamool Congress scripted a landslide victory winning 211 of the 294 seats, bettering its 2011 election triumph when it won 184 seats.

But the script may change in the 2021 assembly election that is going to be a do-or-die battle for the party. With the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections indicating rising support for the saffron forces – with its vote share rising from 17.02 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to 40.25 per cent – Trinamool is certainly struggling.

The stakes are high for Mamata Banerjee and with each passing day Rajeev Kumar remaining ‘underground’ is adding to the ruling party’s burden.

The West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Somen Mitra went so far as to issue a dramatic statement on Saturday, expressing apprehensions that Rajeev Kumar might get killed. And some like Mukhopadhyay think that even many common people are saying so.

“People are not fools, they understand that something is grossly wrong. Rajeev Kumar is extremely close to Mamata Banerjee,” says Mukhopadhyay.

Even if Mitra’s apprehension indicates more rhetoric than substance, it does underscore the stakes that the 1989 batch IPS officer carries on his shoulders.

How many IPS or IAS officers can boast of the chief minister publicly declaring him to be “the best in the world” and, conducting a sit-in demonstration in a city to protest his harassment by another government, said Roy, pointing out Mamata Banerjee never undertook any demonstration as she did in Rajeev Kumar’s case to oppose the interrogation or arrest of even her senior party leaders in the ponzi scams.

Over the past few days, CBI officers are constantly on the move to track down Kumar, an officer known for his deft skills with internet-based technology using which he had nabbed many criminals in the past.

CBI officers have said in the courts that while the agency is trying to access Kumar for questioning, the state government is not giving any information. “It is just not possible that an IPS officer, and that too the CID chief, goes on leave without the government knowing his whereabouts,” said the bureaucrat who has worked closely with the chief minister.

First Published: Sep 23, 2019 16:44 IST

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