Asking For It
On the eve of Independence Day at a seminar entitled “Executive Accountability to Parliament/Legislature” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly slammed the judiciary, claiming that judgments are frequently ‘purchased’. Even while making the controversial remarks she was aware that she could be sued for ‘contempt’ because as she spoke she also said that she didn’t mind if she was hauled off to jail but that she would speak her mind nevertheless. Though Banerjee did not name any specific judgment while making these remarks, her comments came a day after the State Human Rights Commission recommended that Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and his neighbour, who had been first harassed and then arrested by police for circulating an email spoof of the CM, be paid a compensation of Rs 50,000 each by the government and those who harassed them brought to book.
The seminar at which the CM made the remarks was being held inside the Bengal Assembly building and though Assembly was not in session, the press — including a number of television channels and sections of the print media — was present to document the proceedings. Literally anyone, with an axe to grind against the CM, could have taken up the gauntlet and challenged the CM in court on those remarks. So it was only expected that the opposition would grab the opportunity. And sure enough it did.
Barely had the Courts opened after the Independence Day holiday that CPIM’s Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharjyya, former Calcutta Mayor and himself a lawyer made a plea in the Calcutta HC for permission to sue the Chief Minister. While moving the Court, Bhattacharya submitted newspaper clippings and news clips from television channels to substantiate his claim that the CM had made “derogatory” remarks about the judiciary. A division bench of Justices K.J. Sengupta and Ashim Kumar Mondal pronounced that they would verify the authenticity of the documents and the footage and asked the concerned media houses to submit affidavits corroborating the veracity of the reports. After four weeks, the bench will examine whether or not action can be initiated.
According to the law of ‘contempt’ as specified in the ‘Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the punishment is a maximum sentence of six months but the Supreme Court can invoke its special powers to make it longer and more stringent. According to legal experts, rarely is the full six-month term awarded and more often than not the practice has been a token jail term but that is solely the discretion of the Court. As far as politicians are concerned, a jail term for contempt is not known to have adversely impacted their political careers.
Indian chief ministers who faced ‘contempt of court’ charges include former UP CM Kalyan Singh, who had failed to keep his promise to the Court of protecting the Babri Masjid and E.M.S. Namboodiripad for claiming that Marx and Engles had said that the courts were pro-rich. Two days after the remarks, though Mamata toned down her criticism of the judiciary by saying that she did not mean that all judges were corrupt and blamed the media for distorting her words, and added: “I am happy that a case has been filed against me. Whatever I said, I’ll repeat a hundred times.” She also pointed out that she herself was a lawyer and therefore understood the law. Watch this space.
A Home Away From Home
Calcutta likes to believe that it is a city which is truly democratic in its acceptance of all cultures and customs, races and religions. This belief is reinforced by how Calcutta has often remained unscarred during violent clashes in other parts of the country — whether the anti-Sikh riots after the assassination of Indira Gandhi or the Hindu-Muslim riots post the Babri Masjid demolition. In keeping with this belief, it was heartening to hear, that people who have come to live, study or work in Calcutta from the Northeast are not feeling unsafe here, as some local media reports have claimed. Even as thousands of Northeasterners are fleeing from other states fearing a backlash (the clashes on the streets of Mumbai were alleged to have been linked to the Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam), Calcutta is being described by members of the community as “a home away from home.” For instance, the Calcutta edition of a national daily quoted the Mizoram Students’ Welfare Association president, Lalropuia as saying, “We have nothing to fear in Calcutta. This has been and still is a safe and peaceful place for those of us who come here to study and work. Acceptance is an integral part of this city’s culture.” And we hope it continues to be a home away from home from every race and religion and emerges as a truly cosmopolitan city.
Book Review Launch
“But you are in Calcutta, Shashi…so you are going to get a debate rather than a celebratory book launch,” Shashi Tharoor was told at the launch of his book on Indian foreign policy, Pax Indica, in the city. Indeed, instead of being a cordial affair which book launches usually are, this event was more of a critical review in the presence of the author himself. But the critics were mostly friends and fellow intellectuals and the former Indian foreign ministry official didn’t seem to mind at all. He grinned his trademark grin as he was grilled by his companions on stage on everything from views expressed in the book to what has not been addressed. The chief guest at the book launch was Bengal governor M.K. Narayanan, who made no “politically-correct” secret of his disagreements with Tharoor, taking up 15 minutes instead of the 5 allotted to him for his speech to the delight of the audience who thoroughly enjoyed the debate. The governor, who is a former National Security Advisor and Intelligence Bureau Chief, said that he had already read the 450-page tome, much to the delight of Tharoor. One of the points where Narayanan said he differed from Tharoor was the author’s approach to ties with Pakistan. “I don’t agree with you Shashi that we need to go the proverbial extra mile with Pakistan,” he said. However he did praise the book for its “encyclopaedic analysis.” If the debate was riveting, one remark from former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, had the audience in splits. “There is something very common between Shashi and myself. You know what it is,” quipped the politician, alluding to Tharoor’s ouster from the foreign ministry after the cricket scandal broke and his own unceremonious dismissal from the railway ministry. Looks like Trivedi is having the last laugh.
Of Mice and Money
At a time when the West Bengal government has been accusing the central government of playing a cat and mouse game over a bailout package which Mamata Banerjee has been demanding for the neck-deep-in-debt state, the centre is all set to dish out some funds to the state government to help it rid of rats at Writers’ Buildings, the Bengal secretariat. The corridors of power are reportedly infested with mice and other vermin and the state government is intent on exterminating them. They attack everything from files to computer key boards. So now the centre is reportedly sending experts from the Central Warehousing Corporation, which it uses for its own pest control, to the state. What if the centre assumes this to be a substantial substitute for a proper bailout package? Rats!
Jholey and Joley
The 5-year-old daughter of a Bengali friend was asked in school, where fish is found. She stood up, cleared her throat and confidently told the teacher: “Jholey…aar joley.” [In the curry, and in water]