STORY: The chief minister of a big Indian state led a sit-in on Monday (February 04) in a standoff with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over a corruption investigation she condemned as a vendetta, as political tension rises ahead of a general election.
“This is a constitutional breakdown that no state government can run in this country. This is a very serious thing”, she said on Tuesday (February 05).
Mamata Banerjee, the firebrand chief minister of West Bengal, began the protest overnight in the state capital, Kolkata, after federal police swooped on the home of a police commissioner as part of an investigation into Ponzi schemes that defrauded thousands of small investors.
Banerjee, who leads a regional party trying to forge a front against Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accused the federal government of trying to undermine state powers.
West Bengal, which sends the third largest number of legislators to the lower house of parliament, has become a battleground state as the Hindu nationalist BJP looks to make in-roads in the east to make up for any losses in its northern heartland.
Over the past several months, disputed have erupted between the BJP and Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and there have been allegations that hardliner Hindu groups are trying to stir up tension with minority Muslims to win votes.
The chief minister sat on a wooden platform, surrounded by ministers and party leaders, and held a meeting of her cabinet.
But the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is controlled by the federal government, said state police prevented its agents from carrying out their work on Sunday and even briefly detained them.
Showing disdain, leading BJP party addressed the media, calling the alliance an opportunistic one
Modi has to call the election by May. Polls suggest his alliance may emerge as the largest group in parliament but short of a majority. Regional parties like Banerjee’s could play a crucial role in any coalition building.
Opposition parties led by the Congress party said they backed Banerjee in her fight with Modi’s administration. Showing solidarity with Banerjee, opposition party leaders Tejashwi Yadav and Kanimozhi flew to the eastern state.
“This is a pre-election gift from Modi to Banerjee”, said Kanimozhi on Monday amid hundreds of Banerjee’s supporters who gathered at the protest venue on Monday, shouting encouragement.