A cop drama with fantasy elements is playing out in Bengal where a no-nonsense officer, once hailed as the daughter of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is now being labelled as a carpetbagger.

Members of Trinamool Congress fear Bharati Ghosh, an IPS officer who once freed the Maoist-prone Midnapore district from red terror, could now cause embarrassment to the party if she spills some “inside secret” about the way the TMC handled the bloody Maoist crisis and also the way the government functions in the state.

Cops from West Bengal, probably under instructions from higher echelons of the TMC, have travelled to as many as six states across India to trace and arrest Ghosh but to no avail.

Ghosh, who once called Banerjee “mother” and was considered extremely close to the CM, was privy to many secrets, including the controversial death of Naxalite leader Molajula Koteswar Rao, better known as Kishenji, on 24 November 2011. The state government had claimed Kishenji was killed in an encounter in Junglemahal though there were conflicting reports which said the Naxalite leader was shot dead after he had surrendered.

If Ghosh offers proof of such a killing, it could cause tremendous embarrassment to the state government. Staged encounters are not uncommon in Bengal; the state witnessed many such killings by cops during the tumultuous Naxalite movement in the 1970s.

Political observers in Kolkata say there are genuine fears within the top brass of the TMC about Ghosh and her future motives. Ghosh worked for a little over six years in Midnapore, a politically sensitive region for the TMC.

There are reports that Ghosh, who recently resigned from her job, is cosy with the leaders of the BJP, an equation facilitated by TMC rebel turned BJP leader Mukul Roy. Ghosh resigned after she was removed as the SP of West Midnapore and appointed as the commandant of Third Battalion of State Armed Police at Barrackpore—a position many consider an “ornamental post”. The resignation followed a showdown between her and a TMC leader.

State BJP leaders have given her an open offer to join their party, though Ghosh has remained non-committal. Senior BJP leaders in Delhi are closely monitoring the developments.

The move has angered CM Banerjee and her close associates. In order to do some serious damage control, TMC leaders are now calling Ghosh “very, very corrupt”.

“She once hounded the Maoists and other criminals, now she is being hounded,” says her lawyer, Pinaki Bhattacharya. “This seems very, very vindictive.”

What is intriguing is that the first complaint of extortion against Ghosh came from one Chandan Majhi, an eatery owner who sells fried noodles and egg rolls. Majhi said he sold 375 grams of gold jewellery to a police officer who worked with Ghosh. Majhi did not say from where he got the jewellery. The cops were left embarrassed when it was revealed that Majhi was a proclaimed offender and he was on bail after a two year jail period when he had filed the complaint against Ghosh.

The second complaint against Ghosh was lodged by one Younis Ali Mondal, a fruit shop owner, who said he had paid Ghosh Rs 45 lakh for helping in smuggling cattle and drugs across the Bengal-Bangladesh border in north 24 Parganas. 

Ghosh and three police officers, Charanjit Ghosh, Rajshekhar Payne and Sujit Mondal, who once worked with her were named in the FIR filed by the West Bengal Police and submitted to a court in Midnapore. Interestingly, the fruit seller had lodged a similar complaint in the Calcutta High Court in 2016 but eventually withdrew it, claiming the matter was settled amicably. Mondal did not say what prompted him to lodge the same complaint again in 2018.

Mondal had run into trouble when Ghosh checkmated his plans to transport cows from Midnapore to Bashirhat in Bengal border.

But the raids in Kolkata have opened up a Pandora’s Box, with political parties blaming Banerjee and her party for maligning the officer, even attempting to arrest her by falsely implicating her. Senior CPM leader Surya Kant Mishra took to Twitter to say: “If the supremo doubts your loyalty wait for any nonsense but so long your loyalty isn›t questioned you›re free to commit any nonsense. It is time for loyalists to revolt.”

Mishra said it was clear Banerjee was trying to silence Ghosh. “The CM and her men are trying to implicate the officer because there are chances she could join the BJP. Why are they worried? Mukul Roy has joined the BJP, anyone can join any party. What is it that the TMC wishes to hide from the masses? What is it that Ghosh has access to and can cause discomfort to the TMC?”

The CPM leader said the TMC was trying to make an example out of Ghosh, so that other IPS officers in the state dare not revolt. “There are many such officers who have, in private, complained about the high handed behaviour of the TMC leaders in the state. Didi knows it and wants to bury it fast. If she can have Bharati arrested, she will send a strong message to all serving IPS officers in the state. And, also to the BJP,” the CPM leader said.

Ghosh, however, has remained silent, except for a brief message to her social media group that included some journalists. Ghosh said she found it appalling that her house was raided by the CID officers without any notice, her husband was locked up and the interiors of her house was rampaged. “I am totally at dark, I am not in the state. My husband works for an autonomous organisation, I have served at the United Nations, the international community and the people of Bengal with dignity. I was recommended for the Shourya award and the President’s Police Medal by my immediate superiors before I resigned,” Ghosh said. She said she opted out of the awards because she had resigned, an indication that she was an honest cop.

TMC will not relent

CID officers who went to Ghosh’s residence made some tactical blunders. They landed up without the necessary search papers. When her husband, M.A.V. Raju, insisted on seeing the search warrants, the CID officers admitted they did not have the papers issued in the name of Ghosh but they would do the same when the warrants are submitted in the court. Raju, a general manager with the Calcutta Stock Exchange, was quoted by newspapers in Kolkata saying he was locked up by the officers during the raids.

In her WhatsApp message, a copy of which is with this correspondent, Ghosh asked some pointed questions: “I am happy that I am being maligned but may I ask why should you (the CID officers) land up at my home with a blank FIR? Are you in such a hurry that you have lost your senses? You have searched my home for four days and found nothing and all of a sudden you find loads of cash stashed in one of the flats? Are you aware that the flat where you have supposedly found the cash was not mine?”

TMC leader Sudip Bandhopadhyay said the law would take its own course in the Bharati Ghosh case. “There are a number of cases against her; the matter is in the court.”

But ground realities suggest exactly the opposite in Kolkata. The raids, claimed highly placed sources, started with a huge force of officers from the CID headquarters in the city. Ghosh’s lawyer Bhattacharya said the CID officers flouted a number of protocols, including recording the raids and using local people as witnesses. 

“I have conducted several raids in my life. You need FIR, warrants to raid someone. And even if you have searched my home without any prior notice, why did you destroy all my framed photographs? Why take away my chairs, tables? Are they made of gold?” asked Ghosh in her voice message.

There were no answers from either the CID or the West Bengal Police.

“The raids continued for four days, starting from 1 February 2018. And then, on the fourth day, they claimed to have found loads of cash (over Rs 2 crore) and only today (8 February 2018), I am being told Ghosh had carried over 100 classified files from Midnapore to her residence. From cash to files, everything is being implanted at her residence to make grounds for her arrest,” says Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya said Ghosh’s husband was also summoned for questioning at the CID headquarters but exempted from appearance after the cops were told Raju was being treated at a local hospital in Kolkata. The lawyer said there was no basis in the CID charge that the former IPS officer owned five illegal flats in Kolkata.

“Her husband built 12 flats on an ancestral piece of land and kept five flats for themselves and sold six, they have got all clearances in place. They turned two next door flats into one, and retained the other five, selling the rest (six). Ghosh worked with the UN for almost two years and earned tax-free income of over Rs 3 crore, her husband earns a decent salary, why can’t they own the flats?”

Seasoned Kolkata-based lawyer and author Arunabha Ghosh said West Bengal Police head Surajit Kar Purakayastha must not violate laws to please the state government (read CM Banerjee). “Look at the ridiculous nature of their charges. They claimed the cash was recovered from Ghosh’s flat, then they said it was not her flat and was owned by someone else and that the owner is close to Ghosh. And that the flat was maintained by a caretaker. Now, would you believe that a caretaker would be handed over keys of a flat where crores of cash is stashed?” “Does the CID realise the implications of the case if Ghosh says the cash came from the CM?”

But the CID maintains Ghosh is an offender and must be arrested the moment she returns to Kolkata. The officers who raided her flat picked up almost anything and everything, including water filters, microwave oven, chairs, tables, ceiling fans, geysers, even clay flower vases. “We won’t take any chances, the raids are continuing,” a senior CID officer said on the condition of anonymity.

The former cop—now in hiding—is keeping a close watch on the developments playing out in the state she served for many years. Ghosh must clear every bit of the damning evaluations her former superiors have levelled against her. Once that is done, Ghosh will narrate her side of the story, triggering another set of breaking headlines.

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