Battle for Bengal: On West Bengal-Home Ministry tussle

The appointment of three IPS officers of the West Bengal cadre to various posts by the Union Home Ministry on Thursday has escalated the confrontation between the State and the Centre. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has termed the deputation order despite the State’s objection “a colourable exercise of power and blatant misuse of emergency provision of IPS Cadre Rule 1954”. The constant hostility between the State and Central governments is now taking a turn for the worse ahead of the 2021 Assembly election. The tug of war began after a convoy of BJP President J.P. Nadda came under stone pelting in the State on December 10. The BJP apparently holds the IPS officers accountable for the incident. After an initial move to recall these officials was resisted by the State, the Centre has invoked Section 6(1) of the Indian Police Service (Cadre) Rules, which says that “in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government....” The tussle mirrors the high stakes political contest between the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress. The CM’s style of managing the police force has gained attention for the wrong reasons in the past. Senior officials are seen as allied with the TMC and the BJP’s determined drive to capture power in the State is multi-pronged.

On Friday, the Supreme Court restrained West Bengal from taking any “coercive action” against several BJP leaders in criminal cases registered against them by the State Police. The BJP will continue to knock on the doors of the Court and the Election Commission of India to bring pressure on the State government. By enforcing its writ on IPS officers, the Centre is sending a signal to all officers that their conduct will now be under scrutiny. The script is familiar. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the CBI issued notice to Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar and wanted to take him in custody, provoking Ms. Banerjee to sit on a dharna. During the polls, the ECI transferred senior police officers including Mr. Kumar. After the elections, the CM restored all officials to their previous posts. The central schemes, Ayushman Bharat and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, are also a bone of contention. The TMC government has refused to implement them, demanding that the funds be routed through the State. The CM has also complained of insufficient central assistance to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and cyclone Amphan. The Centre’s earlier demand that the Chief Secretary and DGP attend a meeting in New Delhi on the State’s law-and-order situation increased tensions. All told, the partisan use of the personnel and instruments of the state by parties in power as is happening in this tussle is a disturbing signal for democracy and federalism.



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