Kolkata: A new chapter is being added to the West Bengal government-versus-the Centre feud, after the Union home ministry asked three senior IPS officers to be released immediately for central deputation.
The three officers — Inspector General (South Bengal) Rajeev Mishra, DIG (Presidency Range) Praveen Kumar Tripathi, and Diamond Harbour SP Bholanath Pandey — were in-charge of BJP chief J.P. Nadda’s security when his convoy was attacked on 10 December.
BJP leaders allege that the three IPS officers have been “extremely pro-Trinamool” for a long time and “almost cadres” of CM Mamata Banerjee’s party.
The BJP’s state president Dilip Ghosh said of the MHA order: “These officers are known as close to them (Trinamool). We have seen it in previous instances too. Mamata Banerjee runs the government through the police.”
The ruling party, meanwhile, has called the order “arbitrary” and part of “political vendetta”.
A 12 December letter by Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee to Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla said the order is a tool to “coerce and terrorise” IPS and IAS officers of West Bengal”.
“Your motive is very clear that by taking them (the IPS officers) you want to create pressure,” the MP wrote.
Another Trinamool MP Sougata Roy pointed out: “It (releasing the officer for central deployment) is at the state’s discretion. The state will decide if it wants to release or retain these officers.”
Senior civil servants, meanwhile, say the officers are “unnecessarily caught in the Centre-state cross-fire”.
Who are these officers?
Rajeev Mishra is a 1996 batch IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre, and was well-known for being “upright” as IG of the western range for around three years before taking up his current position as IG (South Bengal).
A senior police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said certain incidents under his watch in the western range have earned Mishra the BJP’s wrath.
“Mishra has been in the wrong position at the wrong time. He is otherwise not seen as a politically motivated officer,” the senior officer said.
One of the incidents referred to by the officer took place on 16 July 2018 when a tent collapsed at the venue for PM Narendra Modi’s ‘Krishi Kalyan Samabesh’ meeting in Midnapore. Over 50 people were injured, and the incident was considered a breach of the PM’s security protocol.
The home ministry sent a three-member central team led by the secretary (security) to the Union cabinet for a probe. This team observed that there was a “grey area” in the arrangement for the PM’s security, and as the zonal IG, Mishra’s role came under the scanner.
Then, in August 2019, video footage emerged of Mishra touching Mamata Banerjee’s feet during an informal interaction between the CM and some senior IPS officers in East Midnapore. The video showed the CM sitting on a brick wall and feeding cakes to some officers, including then-director of security Vineet Goyal and Mishra. The viral video caused huge embarrassment to the West Bengal Police.
Now, with Mishra’s name in the MHA’s list of IPS officers to be deputed to the Centre, the BJP has dug out the old footage and posted it on Twitter. Its IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted the video on 12 December.
One of the 3 IPS officers (1996 batch), who has been moved to center on deputation, had his video go viral in 2019 where he was seen touching Mamata Banerjee’s feet near a sea beach, apparently at Digha in West Midnapore district.
That is too much bhakti.https://t.co/lm2XidP7ZV
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) December 12, 2020
Presidency Range DIG Praveen Tripathi is a 2004 batch IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre. Tripathi has held some crucial positions in Mamata Banerjee’s 10-year rule — he was the SP of West Midnapore district when ‘cleaning operations’ were carried out against Maoists, and is credited for the operation that killed militia chief Kishenji in 2011. Since then, there have been no incidents of Maoist violence in the area.
Later, Tripathi was posted as the joint commissioner of police (crime) in Kolkata, under former CP Rajeev Kumar. In bureaucratic and political circles, Tripathi has been seen as “close” to the commissioner and the government, with some IPS officers saying he was also close to the CM.
He was transferred out as joint CP after the 2019 general elections, and in January 2020, he was posted as DIG of presidency range, which covers Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee’s constituency, Diamond Harbour.
BJP leaders have blamed Tripathi for slapping “false charges” against some senior leaders including the party’s state in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya and former Trinamool leader Mukul Roy, who is now with the BJP.
Pandey is a West Bengal cadre IPS officer of the 2011 batch, and a doctor by training. Becoming the SP of the Diamond Harbour police district is his first important posting in nine years. Diamond Harbour was split away from the South 24 Parganas police district as part of a trifurcation in February 2017.
According to sources in the police, Pandey was in charge of the district during the 2018 panchayat elections and the 2019 general elections as well. There were several incidents of political violence in the area during these elections which a senior police officer said may have irked the BJP.