It’s unfortunate that the no-holds-barred electoral contest in West Bengal has not ended with the landslide victory for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. The day-long drama Kolkata witnessed when two state ministers, one MLA and a former Mayor, were arrested did not show constitutional functionaries like the governor and the chief minister in a good light. Nor did the CBI’s pick-and-choose policy redound to the credit of the organisation. The four were allegedly caught on video accepting money from a fictitious company in a sting operation telecast by Narada TV just before the 2016 Assembly election. However, the CBI did not think it necessary to arrest BJP’s Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, who is as guilty or innocent as the four. The accused number one in the case is Mukul Roy, who was one of the first to leave the TMC to join the BJP. He went on to become a kingpin in the BJP’s bid to capture power in the recent assembly elections.
In the case of MLAs, the sanction for prosecution has to be given by the Speaker. Even if the governor is competent to do so, it is a mystery why the CBI did not seek sanction for prosecution of Adhikari, while it wanted to arrest the TMC leaders immediately. The CBI’s sanction for prosecution against some TMC MPs, including Adhikari, who was a Lok Sabha member when he allegedly took money, has been pending with Speaker Om Prakash Birla. In other words, the power to give sanction for prosecution was selectively used.
However hasty or inappropriate the arrest might have been, Mamata Banerjee did not set a good example when she sat on a dharna in front of the CBI office. As chief minister and TMC supremo, she should have used all the institutional mechanisms, easily available to her, to fight what she claimed was injustice. In effect, she proved to be no better than the leader of a mob.
It’s true that the CBI was ordered to investigate the Narada case by the Kolkata High Court. But what was witnessed at the court on Monday night did not speak highly of the court’s sense of justice. It had every right to cancel the bail given to the four arrested persons by the CBI court. Such an action should have been on merit. Instead, the court dwelt at length on the doctrine of public opinion to argue that if the bail was granted, it would give the wrong impression that the justice system came under pressure. Justice is believed to be blind because it is immune to public opinion. It should not matter to a court whether a particular verdict will be liked by the common people or not. If, in the end, the High Court’s hasty action in cancelling the bail and keeping the four in judicial custody till the case comes up for hearing next is seen as vindictive, it cannot be helped.
Interestingly, the man behind Narada was the same person who organised the Tehelka sting operation under which the then BJP chief was caught on camera accepting money in cash. It also spoiled the political career of Jaya Jaitley, who was close to the then defence minister, George Fernandes. In both cases, the politicians or officials allegedly involved did not ask for money to do any favour. Rather, the money was almost thrust on them so that they could be caught on camera and political gains made. It is still not clear at whose behest the Narada sting operation was conducted, particularly when the political motive was clear.
In a democracy, it is the will of the people that should prevail. In West Bengal, the people have given their mandate clearly in favour of the Trinamool Congress. The BJP has to respect the verdict in the full knowledge that the people expect it to play the role of the opposition in as vigorous a manner as possible. To make use of the organs of the state like the CBI to settle political scores is not in the best interest of the state. Credibility is of the essence in their functioning. The governor has the right to counsel, guide and even show the path to the chief minister but he is not empowered to fight with her. Similarly, the trust the people have reposed in the chief minister should help her to do good for them. She should not squander the goodwill by indulging in political drama. Chest-thumping does not do anyone proud!