Calcutta Notebook


The district of Birbhum in West Bengal has of late, witnessed a bizzare scenario that continues to attract media attention, On 16 January, eight Trinamul Congress councillors of the Suri municipality began a hunger strike against the alleged corrupt practices of the present chairman, who happens to belong to the same outfit. A number of charges involving many millions of rupees have been put forward. Suri, is the district town of Birbhum.

All these charges are serious and the present chairman, who was elected to this post with the support of the Congress and the Left Front, but later changed his political colour to join the Trinamul Congress, has now levelled some counter-charges against his opponents. Maybe he is the symbol of the on-going parliamentary culture in India. His argument is that whatever corruption was there had taken place under the administration of the earlier chairman and vice-chairman, who are among the agitators. The dissidents' opinion is that they had already informed the leadership of their party of the chairman's corrupt practices, but since no action was taken, they have been left without any alternative but to launch a hunger-srike. According to the latest report, the hunger strike has been called off at the request of a Trinamul Congress MLA of Birbhum. It is curious that the district president of TMC, Mr Anubrata Mandal, unequivocally stood on the side of the chairman and went on to disown the dissidents as TMC members. About this particular TMC leader, an event may be recalled. On the eve of the last panchayet polls, Mr Mandal opnely asked his party activists not to allow the Congress and CPI(M) candidates to file nominations. In Bengal history is repeating itself under a different banner but it is the same old tactic of partisan dictatorship under the garb of democracy. Then he went one step further and asked his loyal supporters to bum and bomb the houses of dissidents. A few days later, the father of a dissident Trinamul Congress activist named Hriday Ghosh, was shot dead by miscreants. Harmads are back by changing their jersy. What was more intriguing was that the police forced, presumably at gunpoint, the daughter-in-law of the deceased to lodge the FIR as per their dictates. A few persons were arrested. Later, the members of the family composed themselves and sent a fresh FIR to the district superintendent of police. Anubrata Mandal's name was among those against whom this FIR was lodged, and the family denied emphatically that the persons earlier arrested by the police had any responsibility regarding the murder. The fall-out of the murder was that in the polls, the dissidents won the gram panchayet, defeating the official TMC. When the matter was taken to the Calcutta High Court, the sitting judge took serious note of the murder, chided the police for behaving unconscientously and unscrupulously, and handed over the task of investigation of the case to the CID the results of which at the time of writing have not yet come out. It is interesting that even the lawyer of the government admitted that some sort of avarice was operative in the behaviour of the police. Then police officials always serve the unofficial orders of ruling party bosses who remain behind the curtain.

The most despicable part of the story is that the Chief Minister herself, after the provocative statements of Anubrata Mandal, came out in support of the latter, saying that Anubrata had not meant to say those words. The Chief Minsiter conventietly refrained from specifying what Mandal had really meant to say. On 25 January, the largest circulating vernacular daily of West Bengal carried a report from which it is learnt that the CID has asked for more time and the CID has not yet found time to meet the wife and daughter-in-law of the killed. The reason is anybody's guess. The judge has expressed his grievance at such derelection of duty and has asked the investigating officer to appear physically before him and give an explanation for this inhuman conduct.

About the drama of Suri, this writer asked a knowledgeable resident, who is also a civil rights activist, of Suri about the matter. He replied indignantly that the charges were true but the underlying issue was share of the spoils, and that purchase of the votes of poor slum dwellers with misappropriated public money was now the norm in Suri, as in elsewhere. A local Trinamul Congress activist well known to this writer echoed this opinion. If what they suggest is true, the Trinamul Congress is a thoroughly corrupt party as far as the district of Birbhum is concerned.

Vol. 46, No. 34, Mar 2 - 8, 2014