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West Bengal under Mamata: When Army’s routine exercise becomes ‘hostile deployment’ and CBI doing its duty is ‘coup’

The Army was carrying out an impressment exercise, a routine data collection drive, which was termed as a 'threat to democracy' by Mamata and her government.

For all the posturing of simplicity that a plain, Hawaii chappal, wrinkled white saree clad Mamata Banerjee claims, her proclivity for high voltage drama can put even the most ravishing vamps of TV serials to shame.

Since yesterday, Kolkata has become the centre of another such political storm that has kept media and the government machinery awake through the cold Sunday night. Mamata Banerjee has been sitting in a Dharna claiming ‘democracy in danger’ and ’emergency like situation’, because the Central Bureau of Investigation had sent a team of officials to question the police commissioner of Kolkata Rajeev Kumar, for his alleged involvement in the chit fund scam.

Mamata Banerjee and her TMC have even gone so far as to claim that PM Modi and Amit Shah are planning a ‘coup’ to sack the WB government and NSA Ajit Doval is also in cohorts with them.

Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee seems to have forgotten that a ‘coup’ means forcefully bringing down the government of a sovereign nation, not a state. If the government of a nation wants to sack the government of one of the provinces, there are a dozen ways to do that, none of them is called a coup.

Mamata Banerjee, as per reports, has spent the night doing Dharna and has even declared that she will also hold her cabinet meets from the Dharna venue.

Mamata Banerjee doing Dharna is nothing new. She rose as a firebrand politician opposing the communist rule in West Bengal. However, After BJP government came to power in the centre in 2014, Banerjee’s definitions for democracy, emergency and constitution seem to have changed overnight.

She is found screaming ‘democracy is under threat’ almost on a daily basis now. Her party indulges in rampant violence and even ballot box vandalism during the Panchayat elections in Bengal, opposing candidates are ordered by the court to file nominations via WhatsApp under her rule. BJP is not permitted to carry an election campaign rally in her state, national level leaders are not permitted to land their helicopters to address election rallies in her state, and yet, it is Mamata who is always the one screaming ‘Democracy is in danger’.

Banerjee’s Dharna since last evening is an eerie deja vu moment in West Bengal’s politics. It is not the first time she has declared a threat to her throne.

Back in 2016, displaying immense paranoia, Mamata Banerjee had claimed that there was a conspiracy to kill her after an IndiGo plane, which she was traveling in, hovered over the Kolkata airport due to traffic congestion. Just four days after this, her party the TMC cried that the conspiracy to eliminate the CM was already underway after it alleged that her flight from Patna back to Kolkata was made to circle around 30 minutes over Kolkata airspace even though it was precariously low on fuel. Indigo later came out with a statement that Mamata Banerjee’s flight had more than the minimum fuel requirement and that it did a perfectly normal landing. Also, the low fuel report emerged after the Kolkata ATC misunderstood the pilot. And that it was indeed, traffic congestion at the airport and no conspiracy to kill her.

Few days later after this incident, Mamata Banerjee had locked herself up in the state secretariat and had refused to leave for almost 30 hours. She had claimed that the Indian Army, yes, the Indian Army, is trying to threaten her by ‘deploying’ soldiers in her state.

That may sound odd because West Bengal is a state with an international border, a very porous and troubling one at that, a border that is known for smuggling of cattle, drugs, counterfeit currency and in recent years, even hardened terrorists from Bangladesh. So the presence of army officials in the state should be a normal sight, as the Army has an entire wing called the eastern command.

But logic and reason perhaps come to die in West Bengal. In December 2016, the TMC government in general and Mamata Banerjee, in particular, had created a full-scale furore over the presence of army cadre in the state, their point of contention was, “Why are Army soldiers ‘deployed’ in toll plazas and highways.”

Mamata Banerjee claimed the Army soldiers being present at the toll plazas in the state is suspicious, she claimed that the Army is carrying out ‘political vendetta’ and she claimed the Army has sent its officials to her state without her permission.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTV3JxfmHrw]

The matter was blown to such proportions that it even created a ruckus in the parliament. TMC MPs went on full-fledged furore mode in both the houses of the parliament, even opposition leaders like Mayawati and Ghulam Nabi Azad joined in support with the TMC and condemned the Army for acting ‘against the state government’. TV debates followed, insinuations ran high.

Finally, the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar clarified that the presence of Army cadre at the toll plazas was a part of a routine ‘impressment exercise’ carried out almost every year. He stated that the practice is routine and is being carried out not only in West Bengal but in 80 locations all over north-eastern India. He also added that the state police and the state government had duly been informed prior to the commencement of the exercise.

An impressment exercise is a routine exercise by the army to gather data on availability and running of cargo carriers on major entry points, aimed at having clarity over the speed and efficiency needed in case of a war or a national disaster to mover cargo and personnel to different locations of the country.

The Hindu had quoted an Army officer saying that the exercise aims to collect data over the availability and movement of civilian vehicles that can be used during situations of war or national disasters, for better coordination between the army and civilian authorities.

In the same year, similar exercises were carried out in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and almost all other states of the northeast. Before the Bengal exercise began, the Army had already done similar exercises in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh in the same year. The army officials assigned the task were withdrawn after the data collection exercise was over.

TMC and Kolkata police’s claims of the army not giving them prior information fell apart when the Eastern Command had released the official letters they had sent to the state government and police.

Mamata, however, was far from convinced. She declared that the Army “had penetrated in 80% areas of the state” and that she will continue guarding the secretariat because “they might come back”.

The army officials had finished their data collection at the toll plaza near the Vidyasagar Setu a little after the midnight on December 2, 2016, just as they had stated earlier, and had left from the area. The toll plaza was near the ‘Nabanna’, the state secretariat building in Kolkata, where Mamata had declared that the army has been ‘deployed’ to attack her government.

During the 30-odd hours that Mamata Banerjee spent inside the Nabanna, she had held three press conferences, each time claiming that the army is threatening her government and the Army exercise is against democracy and the constitution.

TMC’s Derek O’Brien had even claimed that “demonetisation was a failure” and the army is “collecting money at the toll plazas”.

The above incident not only had exposed Mamata Banerjee’s ability to stir up a melodrama from nothing, but it had also shown how far certain politicians and parties are willing to go just to create fear and lack of trust among the masses. A routine exercise by the Army was vilified and targeted to such an extent that rampant attempts were made to paint Army officers merely doing their job as vile mercenaries attempting to overthrow an elected government.

If Mamata’s theatrics to oppose a routine Army exercise near a toll plaza visible from her office building can go to such extent, it can be estimated how far she will be willing to go to hide the corruption charges against her own party leaders and supporters in the state machinery who have brutally looted the gullible poor people in chit fund scams.

Just to mention the scale of corruption, please remember that the Sharda chit fund scam alone is estimated to have duped 1.4 million investors of about Rs 4000 crores.

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Sanghamitra
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