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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Expect more violence in Didi’s Bengal

The spectacle of a Bengal governor shedding tears in public over political murders and killings was never witnessed even in the thick of the CPI (M)’s 34-year-old rule. That the current incumbent, Jagdish Dhankar, could not suppress his emotions on May 15 after making the rounds of areas which bore the brunt of the vicious post-poll violence showcased the state’s continuing descent into the hellhole of fascism.

Sadder still is that the gubernatorial catharsis failed to arouse the sentiments of his bosses in Delhi much less spur them into action. In fact, if there is anyone who has done all in his power to expose the roguery of the Mamata Banerjee regime in the last few years, it is the governor. He is the last man standing between the semblance of order and the anarchy of late 1960s in Bengal. That she has written to the President seeking his removal is hardly surprising.

Without his permission the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could never have arrested two of her key cabinet ministers, an MLA, and a former Kolkata mayor from their residences on May 17. Among them is her closest henchman, predictably enough a Muslim: Firhad Hakim who holds the lucrative urban development portfolio. All four were granted bail by the special CBI court, but the high court threw a spanner in the works by staying the order.

Hakim and his colleagues have been charged of criminal conspiracy under Section 120b of the Indian Penal Code and sections 7 and 13 (1)(a) 13 (1)(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act in connection with the 2016 Narada sting operation bribery case.

Critics promptly accused Mr. Dhanker of using the CBI to settle scores after the BJP’s electoral defeat. Others felt he was justified. Didi’s refusal to act against her party goons for unleashing a reign of terror in the interiors pushed him to a wall. It compelled him to see things for himself, and there is much that he saw during his tour.

With the Centre’s continuing diffidence to be drawn into a direct confrontation, the decision was well-taken. The governor’s quiescence would have been seen as an abject surrender to Didi’s brute power. He had in tweet after tweet conveyed to the authorities that the police and other officials had failed to apprise him of the worsening law and order situation despite repeated pleas.

Raj Bhavan’s propaganda offensive got Didi’s goat. She promptly shot off a letter in protest which said: “I find from social media that you are unilaterally proceeding to Cooch Behar district on May 13… I find that to be violative of the long-standing norms as evolved over several decades…I would therefore expect you to kindly follow the well-established norms of protocol… and desist from abrupt decisions with regards to field visits.”

Nineteen BJP workers have been killed in the retributive violence following the ruling TMC’s third straight victory in the assembly elections on May 2. But the bloodshed alone does not convey the sense of fear and foreboding among the Hindu populace. There have been beheadings, suicides, multiple gangrapes, mass exodus, nightly power cuts, looting of shops, and destruction of property.

Video and other pieces of evidence make it obvious that those who carried out the mayhem were mostly Muslim. Hindus were punished for voting BJP. None of the rioters and killers were apprehended because they hailed from the community which has stood rock solid behind the TMC. To show her concern, Didi announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the families of each victim. Not the slightest interest was shown in bringing the guilty to book.

The attitude of the courts was no less disappointing. Both the apex court and the high court were petitioned. Pleas to grant a priority hearing initially fell on deaf ears.  Finally, when a PIL filed by a lawyer owing allegiance to the CPM came up for hearing on May 10 before a five-judge bench of the Calcutta HC headed by the chief justice, the learned judges ended up “appreciating” the “good work” done by the state government in checking the violence.

The events of May 17 in which TMC supporters defied lockdown norms and chucked stones and bricks at security personnel outside the CBI office in Kolkata over the arrest of Didi’s loyalists may have prodded a rethink. Her efforts to bamboozle the CBI into releasing her ministers by sitting on a dharna and courting arrest also did not go down well with the judges.

The unruly scenes by the court’s own volition influenced it to stay the bail of the arrested four. The order was passed after a late-night hearing in which the country’s premier probe agency sought that the case be transferred to the HC, even outside the state, due to the “unprecedented mob pressure” put on the lower court at the CM’s behest.

From the look of things Didi’s third term may turn out to be the most violent. This should not surprise those familiar with her persona. Aggression, agitation, and abuse are integral to her politics. They have been her most dependable weapons which she has shamelessly but successfully employed over the years to outwit her rivals.

Bruised and battered by a CPM thug, and a Muslim at that, during a public protest in August 1990, Mamata used the incident to establish her credentials as the only Congress leader capable of challenging the CPM. The frontline of the Bengal Congress was then a compromised lot whom the CPM regularly obliged with favors to keep them marginalized.

Back in 1974 as a Youth Congress activist, Bengal’s future CM stopped the car carrying “Total Revolution” advocate Jai Prakash Narayan near the Calcutta airport, kept kicking the mud guard while hurling expletives at the socialist veteran. JP was on his way to address a public rally in support of his movement directed at uprooting the Indira Gandhi regime.

The publicity garnered earned Didi a promotion. She was given a senior placement in the women’s wing of the state Congress.

Didi can still do an encore of any of her acts if necessary. Barging into the CBI office and getting her goons to threaten its officials shows nothing has changed over the decades.


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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.

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