Gone are the crisp body-hugging khaki uniform and kohl eyes behind dark shades, especially in public, for Bharati Ghosh, the former IPS officer, who had an impressive record as a part of the UN peacekeeping mission for years, there has been a complete metamorphosis.
The former district police chief of West Midnapore, who is drawing attention as the debutant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate in the Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency — a subdivision in the West Midnapore district -- is pitted against one of Bengali cinema’s reigning stars —Dev, the Trinamool Congress's incumbent parliamentarian from the seat in a district known for floods and an erstwhile Maoist hotbed, that is until Ghosh decimated the Maoists and freed the “Jangal Mahal” — a large forested area dominated by tribespeople in south-western Bengal comprising parts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts border by the Ayodhya Hills in the Choota Nagpur Plateau and was named as the Jangal Mahal or jungle estates by the British -- of the armed rebels.
Ghosh, a former management student of Harvard, once called Banerjee “Ma Jangalmahal er Ma” ( mother, mother of jangal mahal) and “mother” Banerjee very often would tell others, including her party’s then second-in-command-Mukul Roy, now with the BJP—“what a good girl Bharati was”.
And the mutual admiration of the “Ma-bholo meye” (mother-good girl) would at times be displayed in full public view on the dais of political rallies and government programmes with the good girl obediently toeing the Trinamool Congress boss' line with the right dosage of obeisance.
Ghosh, who came to Bengal in 2011, fresh with her vast experience in war-torn places of Kosovo and Bosnia, drew Banerjee’s attention after she took over as chief minister of Bengal. She thought a no-nonsense efficient police officer was the right fit to tackle the Maoists in Bengal’s badlands.
From the state CID, Ghosh was made the district police chief of West Midnapore, which witnessed Maoist violence after 2008.
In the most daring attack, Maoists triggered a remote-controlled bomb on the motorcade of the then Marxist chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at Salboni in the district.
Union ministers Jitin Prasada and Ram Vilas Paswan, along with Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and state industries minister Nirupam Sen, narrowly escaped an ambush by the Maoist on November 2, 2008.
An improvised explosive device, remotely triggered by the rebels, snapped a high tension wire and riddled a police car with shrapnel and pallets, injuring six policemen.
Bhattacharya, Paswan, Prasada, Sen, Congress MP Naveen Jindal and industrialist Sajjan Jindal had gone to Salboni for the groundbreaking ceremony of a proposed Rs 35,000 crore integrated steel plant in the Maoist-hit area and were returning to Calcutta when the blast took place.
The mother’s “bhalo meye”, like an efficient hard-nosed policewoman, decimated the Maoists and was responsible for the death of their leader, Koteswar Rao, better known as “Krishanji”, in a hard-fought gun-battle.
But that was in 201,1 and the mother-good girl relation continued for more than seven years, with Ghosh becoming quite indispensable to her state boss.
With Banerjee’s blessings, Ghosh managed to get rid of the armed rebels from the backward areas of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore. The Jangal Mahal not only became free of just the Maoist menace but of any dissenting voices and Banerjee compensated the embattled Jangal Mahal with heavy doses of development, plugging all possibilities of any Maoist regrouping and then coined her favourite catch line of “Jangal Mahal Hanschhe, Pahar Hanschhe ( Jangal Mahal is smiling, the Hills are smiling—referring to the quelling of a renewed violent agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling hills in north Bengal).
More than a police chief, Ghosh was known as the chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s closest aide, says a senior police official in Ghatal.
“She (Ghosh) was more powerful than the district Trinamool leaders. And now, she is a BJP candidate and the local Trinamool leaders for whom she was accused of bending rules, are now her opponents, says the official, who does not want to be named.
The hands that once wielded a baton, to beat and rule people, especially the young turks among the rebels who dreamt of a classless revolution, were won over in the fold of the ruling party with posts, power and privileges, says a district Trinamool Congress leader.
West Midnapore—comprising pockets like Ghatal, Keshpur, Garbeta, and Daspur—that once was a Left bastion, has like Ghosh metamorphosed too—into a Trinamool Congress fief—since the change of guard in Bengal.
Once, opposition leaders—be it from the Left or the saffron party—who used to accuse Ghosh of performing the role of the district Trinamool Congress chief, now say, they have forgotten those days.
“We have forgotten those days. Now she is our candidate,” says a district BJP leader, who was arrested by Ghosh on multiple charges.
Ghosh is pulling out all stops to change her image as a high-handed policewoman and knows that her contest is with a Tollywood celebrity—Dev, whom people in the constituency say, has a way with them with his winning smile.
“When she was the SP here, I had never seen Ghosh smile as I had often seen her convey pass and she would never ever smile, forget talking to us. But a couple of days back she came to my shop with folded hands. I was scared and taken aback as she was not even wearing her dark glasses. But then she smiled,” says a woman in her late fifties who runs a tea stall near the Ghatal police station.
Apart from making people forget her past with a smile, Ghosh, who scored brownie points in her career as she went on antagonizing Banerjee’s enemies and gain her confidence. But the mother-good girl relations finally soured after Mukul Roy— whom she was closed to — left the Trinamool Congress and joined the BJP. She, then, became a prime suspect in the eyes of the Bengal chief minister.
Ghosh also has a mission to clear her name, which allegedly emerged in multiple criminal cases in the same district, leading to her resignation from her service in December 2017.
Banerjee’s good-girl Ghosh, is at present, being investigated by the state CID—a department, she once was part of—for charges, including extortion and cheating.
Though Banerjee has initiated an internal investigation against Ghosh to ensure she keeps mum, given the stubborn daughter she is, Ghosh has not buckled until now. Ready to spar, Ghosh, too, says even she has a tale to tell about her “Ma”.
Ghatal votes on May 12.