West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan is a man of few words. So when the former national security advisor felt compelled to make a public remark on January 9, that the state is in the grips of “a kind of goondaism “, many saw it as a telling comment about the dismal state of law and order in West Bengal. As a string of recent events—each more virulent than the last—shows, things are getting worse.
“As a former member of the National Security Council, I know Narayanan well enough to know that unless the situation in the state was really a cause for concern, he wouldn’t have spoken,” says Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra. Narayanan’s comments came after back-to-back violence, starting from a physical assault on senior CPI(M) leader Abdul Rezzak Mollah on January 6 that landed the 72-year-old in hospital with injuries to his back, hips and knee.
The attack on Mollah, in Kantatala in South 24 Parganas, was carried out by activists of the ruling Trinamool Congress, led by party strongman and former MLA Arabul Islam. The manner in which the TMC top brass came out in defence of the hooligans caused dismay in most quarters. With their gazes firmly fixed on the upcoming panchayat polls in April/May, several ministers, including Partha Chatterjee (industries) and Firhad Hakim (urban development), issued statements in support of Arabul—who dismissed the incident as mere ‘drama’—from their offices at the Writers’ Buildings.
Then, on January 8, some eight vehicles carrying CPI(M) supporters for a rally in Calcutta were torched in Bhangar (also in South 24 Parganas) by a crowd of TMC supporters, and pitched fighting ensued between TMC and CPI(M) men. The alleged culprit again was Arabul. So much for political lawlessness. An appalling lack of decorum, signifying a rot to the core, was to follow.
A day after the governor described the Kantatala and Bhangar violence as ‘goondaism’, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee played a hectoring football referee in an attack on the governor. Narayanan was acting as a ‘party man’, he said, and that he was showing him the ‘yellow card’, to put him ‘under watch’. The threat of the card for banishment remained loudly unspoken.
Though CM Mamata Banerjee herself hasn’t openly supported Arabul, she hasn’t condemned the violence either. Insiders claim that it is at Didi’s behest that the ministers have spoken. After his comments sparked outrage, Mukherjee clarified that he was “asked to” give a tough reply to the Governor.
Echoing Calcutta’s intellectuals, thespian Kaushik Sen points at “the terrifying trend” of condoning criminals with TMC connections. From denying the Park Street rape, then belittling the victim, to harassing professors for ‘maligning’ Mamata, this has been an open season for TMC callousness. (The CPI(M) too partook of the general debasement when leader Anisur Rahman made distasteful remarks against Mamata in December, referring to the rape case.)
It’s politically expedient to protect strongmen. For instance, Arabul reportedly has 12 criminal cases pending against him, but since he also controls 19 panchayat areas the party is loath to rub him the wrong way before the polls. Political vendetta against the opposition offers its own attractions.
Earlier this month, in an incident that drew parallels with the Rizwanur Rehman case, 33-year-old Mir Amirul Islam immolated himself before Calcutta’s Karaya police station, allegedly due to police harassment. A police-criminal nexus was alleged, with reports that Amirul had taken on a local TMC-connected thug. It took public protests to get three policemen charged with the crime.
Violence is a legacy of Bengal’s politics of the past four decades. During the Left Front rule, panchayat elections were particularly sanguinary. The TMC’s continuation of the blood-feud is seen as a payback, but also shows how tough it is to forge anew a saner political culture.
Narayanan’s remarks recall his predecessor Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s words after Left violence at Nandigram. The TMC had lent him its full-throated support. Now the boot is on their foot.
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