October 20, 2020
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Kolkata Korner

Asuras looking like Prasun Mukherjee or his four juniors being vanquished by the Goddess? Would have made an apt sight, wouldn't it? Pity, it wasn't to be. I'll keep an eye out for any 'asura' who's depicted as a fat, balding bully...

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Kolkata Korner

Puja Gift

The festive season couldn't have started on a better note. First, the Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI probe into the Rizwanur case, followed by the transfer of five police officers who had clearly exceeded their briefs, committed illegal acts and favoured an arrogant and rich person against a humble, middle-class young man. 

The groundswell of public opinion has ultimately had its effect—all sinister attempts so far to shield the guilty and cover-up the crime have been defeated. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said as much by admitting that the media and public opinion had forced the government's hand. This gives us reason to celebrate the Pujas with an extra zing, and also raises hopes that any future injustices (as there will definitely be, unfortunately) would be opposed by Kolkatans in the same manner as this. Having tasted victory once, Kolkatans will surely be ever more vigilant to ensure that the state machinery does not get away with behaving in the way it has done before and after Rizwanur's death. 

Yes, the five police officers have only been transferred and not suspended and publicly censured as all of us would have hoped. Yes, the CBI probe may fail to bring out the truth. Yes, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took an inordinately long time to shunt the five officers out. But all said and done, it is heart-warming that the daily 18-hour candlelight vigil outside St Xavier's College on Park Street where 35,000 people from all walks of life have signed on the banners, the public outcry, the sterling role played by the media in doggedly pursuing the case, have all combined to bring a haughty, insensitive government to its knees. 

Kolkatans need to be saluted, and it should be ensured that the fantastic unity and humanism that has been on display all these days stays intact.

The Vigil

Thursday was the last day of the truly momentous candlelight vigil. Now that the CBI probe—one of the vigil's primary demands—would start and the guilty cops have been 'punished' (albeit very mildly), it was collectively decided to suspend it for the time being. With a rider—that "we'll be back again at the first hint of any injustice". 

A few other demands, like arresting Ashok Todi (for, among other things, filing false cases against Rizwanur) have not been met, but there's hope that justice will prevail. Kolkatans would be watching every move the CBI makes, every action the government takes and how the 'judicial' probe (if we can call it that) progresses very carefully. Any wrong move would take Kolkatans back to Park Street. 

This is important, because all of us need to remain vigilant. And going by the extraordinary response that the candlelight vigil, which started off as a small initiative, evoked strengthens my belief that Kolkatans have ultimately overcome their fears and shaken off their apathy to fight for justice. Those who didn't go to the vigil truly missed something. It, in fact, would go down in Kolkata's history as a milestone. 

Thousands of people cutting across all age groups, classes, religions and other divides descending on that spot to light candles, writing messages, signing banners, offering silent prayers in front of a portrait of a smiling Rizwanur kept on a small stool; it all had to be seen and felt. Standing there, one couldn't but have marveled at the spirit of the thousands of Kolkatans who stopped by. They need to be saluted. Being there for even a few minutes would have reposed faith in humanity and silenced skeptics who lament our times. 

There aren't any words to describe that small spot on Park Street, the people who volunteered to stand vigil on four-hour shifts and the multitudes who came to express solidarity with the cause. This vigil embodied the true human spirit; and was a celebration of humanism. The vigil concluded with a special programme that included a short play, English and Bengali songs of love and protest sung by Anjum, Moushumi, 'Never Mind', Shayna Hyrapriet, Rupam and Mohua. Hundreds stood on that sidewalk outside St Xavier's with lighted candles to sing "We shall overcome…" It was like history in the making.

Our Heroes

While all the 50,000-odd who participated in the 21-day vigil need to be saluted, two who deserve special mention are Anwar Ali and Durjoy Guha. Both had been spending nearly 18 hours everyday, without fail, at the vigil. Ali, 37, who teaches accountancy, didn't even celebrate Id with his family while Guha, 55, says he hadn't spoken to his wife and daughter for many days. 

The amazing response from the people of Kolkata inspired them to become permanent fixtures in front of St Xavier's, they say. And their presence there inspired many (including yours truly) to make it a point to stop by at the vigil for a couple of hours at least everyday. The duo would keep the place clean, answer queries patiently, urge people to pen a few lines in the visitors' book, constantly encourage the other volunteers and do everything that needed to be done to keep the flag of protest flying. And, of course, ensuring that the whole affair remained strictly apolitical. 

The two emerged out of nowhere and didn't even know each other till three weeks ago. They're inseparable now. Three cheers to Ali and Guha who personify the noble human spirit. Another institution that deserves praise is the Ananda Bazar Patrika group. The two newspapers--The Telegraph and Ananda Bazar Patrika--as well as the news channels, Star Ananda, really did wonders to mould public opinion by exposing the wrongs and injustices in this case. This media house did what was just and right. Some others played safe and, I'm sure, lost some readers at least.

In Contrast

If the candlelight vigil brought out the best in Kolkatans, the state government's dilly-dallying and apparent reluctance to do what is just displayed the darker side of people. We now hear from the Chief Minister that legal experts had cautioned him against taking action against the cops while the prayer for a CBI probe filed by Rizwanur's mother and brother was being heard in the High Court. There couldn't be a more specious plea. The case was filed a few days after Rizwanur's death and after his family, as well as Kolkatans and even those in the rest of the country who were following this case, realised that the government was trying to cover-up the case and protect the guilty. 

What stopped the Chief Minister from acting against the cops immediately after Rizwanur's death? This is exactly what his comrades asked Bhattacharjee at the Left Front meet on Wednesday and the Chief Minister, we learn, had no answer. If, in the rest of the country, civil and police officers are removed or suspended immediately after untoward incidents, why is it that in Bengal they have to be treated as innocents until proven guilty? 

What is unfortunate in this whole episode is that Bhattacharjee has been forced to order the transfers of the five officers by leaders within his own party and those of the CPI(M)'s allies. He did not do it on his own. He did not follow 'Raj dharma'. He admitted that he was bowing to public opinion while acting against the cops. One would have expected him to do what he did on Wednesday a few weeks ago and, more importantly, say that he was transferring the officers since he believed it was the right thing to do. 

He speaks of public opinion. One would have expected him to heed it a long time ago; or was he unaware of it all this while? Perhaps the CM could also tell us why he took 22 days to make the journey from his Palm Avenue residence to Rizwanur's grieving family at Tiljala Lane—a two minutes' distance? Didn't he do so as a belated damage-control exercise rather than as a humanitarian gesture? If Bhattacharjee's plea now to Rizwanur's mother and to the people in general to have faith in him is met with skepticism and scoffed at, he has no one else to blame other than himself.

Censuring the Commissioner

The Chief Minister, when asked by mediapersons for his take on the controversial comments made by police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee, said he had a talk with the commissioner soon after he got to know what the latter had said on the Rizwanur-Priyanka marriage. Asked again what he told the commissioner, Buddhadeb displayed his true colours again. Chastising reporters for being so inquisitive, he bluntly said the media has no business knowing details of his conversation with the police officer. 

Wrong again, Mr Chief Minister. In a democratic set-up, where Bhattacharjee is an elected representative of the people and Prasun Mukherjee is a 'public servant', the people (through the media) have every right to know what he told Mukherjee on this and how severe he was with an officer who holds repugnant views on marriage between two adults of differing socio-economic backgrounds. 

And anyway, if we are to believe that the CM had rebuked Mukherjee, what sort of a person is the latter to hold on to his chair for so many days after the reported admonishment? Which self-respecting person would have continued in office for so long? And not only that, when asked for his reaction on Jyoti Basu's public censure of his statements and Basu's demand that such officers ought to step down, Prasun Mukherjee arrogantly said he had better things to do than resign!

Well Said

It was left to a frail old lady, Rizwanur's mother Kishwar Jahan, to put the action taken against the five police officers in perspective. She told mediapersons that the five have only been transferred, not suspended. And being the sort of persons that they are, they'll do the same (misuse and abuse their powers and positions to harass people and commit illegal acts) in whichever posts they hold. Quite right. One can't really expect the five to carry out their primary duty of upholding the law, having violated it as blatantly as they have done. They are like the proverbial rotten apples that ought to be thrown out of the basket immediately, lest they spread the rot. Is Buddhadeb listening?

Mischievous Ploy

A few artisans' designs to embarrass the five police officers, especially (former) police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee, has been nipped. These idol-makers had reportedly planned to make the 'asura', who's defeated by Goddess Durga, as look-alikes of these police officers. They had obtained photographs of the five cops and were working on the clay images when the police got wind of their plans and stopped them. Would have made an apt sight, wouldn't it? Asuras looking like Prasun Mukherjee or his four juniors being vanquished by the Goddess? By the way, the twin developments—the Court order on CBI probe and the transfer of the five—fits in well with the spirit of the Durga Pujas that celebrate victory of good over evil. And while I'm on the rounds of the Puja 'pandals' over the next few days, I'll keep an eye out for any 'asura' who's depicted as a fat, balding bully. I am told that Ashok Todi's photos in the papers has done the rounds among idol-makers too.

Warning Notes

The last day of the candlelight vigil saw some posters cautioning the CBI against any misadventure. One had a message for the new police commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty. "Gautam, don't be a Buddha" it said. "Walk your talk", said another, referring to Chakraborty's promise that under him, the Kolkata Police would try to regain people's trust.

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