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21 Aug 2019, Edition - 1499, Wednesday

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Mamata versus CBI: When CBI asked for Army help to arrest Lalu Yadav but could not


The tussle between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) may have taken many by surprise, but this is not the first time that a chief minister has locked horns with the CBI in this manner. On Sunday, Mamata Banerjee stormed into the residence of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar to guard him from a 40-member CBI team that wanted to interrogate him.

Twenty two years ago, a somewhat similar action-packed drama was witnessed in neighbouring Bihar. It had been five days since Lalu Prasad Yadav had stepped down as Bihar CM and given the seat to his wife Rabri Devi. The CBI wanted to arrest him in the Fodder scam case in which he was the main accused. When the state administration refused cooperation, the CBI appealed to the Indian Army to help it arrest the former Bihar chief minister.

Here’s what happened:

The CBI was investigating the Fodder scam and the probe was being led by CBI Joint Director UN Biswas. Based on his investigation, Biswas felt the need to arrest the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief.

But this was Bihar of the late 1990s and Lalu was at the prime of his power. In 1997, when the CBI said it wants to execute an arrest warrant against Lalu Prasad, the state administration turned it down.

Earlier, the CBI had tried to contact BP Verma, who was then serving as Bihar chief secretary. In July 1997, Verma’s office responded saying he is not available.

But the CBI was not in a mood to back off so easily. It tried its luck with SK Saxena, the then DGP of Bihar. Saxena said he will need more time for this.

After this, UN Biswas asked the CBI’s Patna-based official-a superintendent rank officer-to approach the Army and seek its help in arresting the Bihar chief minister.

What happened next

The matter rocked Parliament. Available records from the time indicate that the then home minister and CPI(M) leader Indrajit Gupta informed Parliament that the CBI officer in Patna indeed wrote a letter to the officer-in-charge of the Danapur cantonment seeking help. The CBI had requested the Army to “immediately” provide one-armed contingent comprising at least one company to arrest Lalu.

The CBI officer’s letter reportedly read: “As per the oral directions issued by the Patna High Court, this is to request you for favour of providing immediately armed contingent comprising at least one company to assist the CBI party to execute the non-bailable warrant against Lalu Prasad Yadav, former chief minister of Bihar.”

After receiving the CBI’s request for an armed contingent, the officer-in-charge of the Danapur cantonment forwarded the request to his seniors. The Army reportedly replied to the CBI that it will “come to the aid of the civil administration only at the request of the notified civil authorities”.

On seeing no help coming from the Army, the CBI then approached CBI court, which issued a show-cause notice to the Bihar DGP asking why the police did not cooperate with the agency.

UN Biswas became a hero, one who had the courage to take on Lalu Prasad Yadav on his home turf. When he retired and returned to West Bengal, his home state, it was Mamata Banerjee who made him a minister between 2011 and 2016.

With Mamata Banerjee’s tussle with the CBI entering Day 2, Biswas can probably lend some advice.

It is also ironic that 22 years after Biswas’ daring act against Lalu, today Biswas, Lalu, Lalu’s son Tejashwi and Mamata are on the same side, fighting the CBI.

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