Kolkata: Rajeev Kumar had once towered above the landscape of West Bengal and its capital Kolkata as the high-profile police commissioner of the city. Now, he is a pale shadow of his former self, shuttling between the Supreme Court and the Calcutta High Court, filing petitions seeking extension of legal protection from probable arrest, and to get the CBI’s notices to him quashed.
The CBI is about to file a supplementary chargesheet in the Bengal chit fund scam case, and is set to name Kumar as co-accused under sections relating to criminal conspiracy, for allegedly tampering with evidence and trying to hide relevant documents to save the accused, including politicians associated with the ruling Trinamool Congress.
According to the high court’s records, between 30 May and 23 July, seven hearings have taken place on the petitions filed by Kumar, a 1989-batch IPS officer who is now the additional director general of the West Bengal CID.
However, there is a marked change in him. According to one of his IPS colleagues, he has quietened down over the last few months, and barely goes to work. The invincible aura around him seems to have faded.
Kumar’s situation is a microcosm of the shifting power equation in the state, with the BJP mounting pressure on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, both in terms of expanding its footprint in West Bengal and the relations between the central and state governments.
A bevy of notices
Kumar has been served with at least five summonses by the CBI since October 2017, but he has only appeared before the probe agency twice — first, a Supreme Court-mandated appearances in Shillong in February, and then in Kolkata on 7 June, when he was grilled.
Between those appearances, the CBI sought the top court’s approval for custodial interrogation of Kumar, alleging he was “arrogant and non-cooperative” in Shillong and was also trying to hide details. Kumar too moved the Supreme Court, and was granted protection from arrest, though the stay on custodial interrogation was vacated by the SC in May. His petitions were then dismissed by the apex court, which asked him to move the Calcutta High Court.
At present, Kumar has been granted protection from arrest by the Calcutta HC, and his petitions are still being heard.
Kumar’s rise to the top
Kumar is an IIT graduate and technocrat who joined the IPS and quickly gained a reputation for being highly competent and efficient, and possessing a cunning mind that gave him the edge over his peers.
When the Left was in power, opposition leader Banerjee used to paint Kumar, the then chief of the Kolkata Police’s Special Task Force, as the villain of the piece. She publicly accused him of snooping on opposition leaders and labelled his methods of policing as “unconstitutional”, alleging that he indulged in tapping their phones and trapping them at the behest of the ruling coalition.
The tide turned after Banerjee came to power in 2011. She began to realise Kumar’s worth as a police officer, given his tremendous network of sources in the underworld and among the Maoist rank and file, and his expertise in using technology to track crime and often unearth documents and highly sensitive material that would silence anybody. The Saradha scam investigation brought him into the limelight, and he was appointed head of the special investigation team (SIT) that would carry out the probe.
Still, it took a while for Banerjee to change her opinion of him. “There was a time when we were facing mass agitation and protest rallies by the Left Front. Rajeev was in charge of handling law and order. He came to me and requested to convey to our leader that he could handle things, but needed an audience with her,” a senior Trinamool leader who had earlier been with the CPI(M) told ThePrint.
“He was trying to talk to her as Didi always saw him as the trusted general of former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But Rajeev has the capability to turn things around, and slowly but steadily, he did that,” he added.
Kumar then superseded his seniors and became the commissioner of the Kolkata Police in 2016, and was credited with modernising the Kolkata Police. He also became a hero to his juniors, and one of CM Banerjee’s closest aides.
‘Political vendetta’ and counter-claims
Kumar has alleged in the high court that he is being targeted to “satisfy vested political interests of a party”, saying he has been “singled out” from a list of 121 officers who were part of the SIT formed to investigate the Saradha scam.
However, Kumar is among the top police officers in Bengal to have been accused of being blatantly biased in favour of the Trinamool Congress dispensation. The Election Commission of India has transferred him twice over fears of bias — once during the 2016 assembly elections and again during the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year.
The most glaring example of the blurring of lines between politicians and police officials came in February, when the CBI and the Kolkata Police — and by extension, the central and state governments — came face-to-face. The agency’s sleuths surrounded the commissioner’s residence on 3 February, and the police manhandled them in response.
Chief Minister Banerjee rushed to Kumar’s defence, organising a 45-hour ‘Save the Constitution’ dharna that was joined by many top West Bengal police officers as well as opposition politicians from other parts of the country.
A senior leader of the West Bengal BJP told ThePrint that in his time Kumar had rubbed the party the wrong way. “He started so many cases to frame senior leaders of our party. He was working as a political tool of Mamata Banerjee. There was no neutrality left in him,” the leader alleged.