What action of West Bengal home secretary Atri Bhattacharya, an IAS officer, triggered the Election Commission’s decision to relieve him of his duties is now out. He had written a letter to the State’s chief electoral officer (CEO), complaining of the central security force’s ‘highhandedness’ in the conduct of the different phases of the Lok Sabha election, especially after the heavy deployment of the paramilitary forces.
Election Commission has relieved WB Principal Secretary Atri Bhattacharya of his current charge for having interfered in the process of conducting the election.
ADG CID, Rajiv Kumar stands relieved and attached to Union Home Ministry. pic.twitter.com/ThKoIIEo89
— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) May 15, 2019
“(There are) disturbing developments regarding the functioning of CAPF deployed in West Bengal during the conduct of elections. You will be aware of the incidents of firing by CAPF during the polls on May 12. There were five such incidents. In addition, there are reports of CAPF personnel behaving roughly with voters in (a) queue and lathi-charging them without justification,” Bhattacharya wrote to CEO Ariz Aftab.
“CAPF are deployed as reinforcement and extra resources in the joint effort for conducting free and fair elections. They need to have with them local officers who know the locality and the situation and can communicate with voters whose democratic rights are to be protected. I would, therefore, request that the decision for not having a local officer in charge of ORTs be re-examined. I would most earnestly request that CAPF officers and personnel be sensitised to the needs of the voters exercising their franchise, which would reduce the perceived need to resort to physical force against them,” Bhattacharya’s letter reads.
[pullquote]In the 1980s, for quite a few months the Anandabazar Patrika went out of circulation because then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu did not like the newspaper[/pullquote]
Does this read like the language of a Union government officer or someone who is at the beck and call of the local rulers? Well, people have stopped getting surprised by this strange conduct of central officers while they are deputed in West Bengal.
Not so long ago, Rajeev Kumar, who is in news today once again for a wrong reason, had allegedly, as the commissioner of Kolkata Police, scuttled the investigation into the chit fund scam involving ministers and officers of the Trinamool government. The whole country saw the fracas in Kolkata when a CBI team went to the Bengal capital to interrogate him.
Now IPS Kumar, who was until yesterday the CID ADG in Bengal, is in news for detaining Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga from the Amit Shah roadshow. Anybody taking recourse to violence must certainly be booked, but the State officials must be questioned why they found nobody from the ruling party of Bengal responsible for the series of murders, apparent suicides, bombings and even the hanging of a polling agent in six of the seven phases of this election.
To someone who has been in touch with Bengal since childhood — although I was neither born nor brought up there — this is déjà vu. In this State, you have always had to submit before the local ruler, no matter where you came from. That included journalists. In the 1980s, for quite a few months the Anandabazar Patrika went out of circulation because then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu did not like the newspaper. After three months or so, when the newspaper resumed its service, it had lost its editorial sting. In this era, why Aveek Sarkar had had to quit as ABP group editor and why the channel’s star anchor Suman Dey sounds virtually like a Trinamool spokesman is among the worst kept secrets of Mamata Banerjee. But I have something to add to the series.
In 2017, I was the executive editor of news agency Hindusthan Samachar, which had been established virtually by the RSS in 1948 (yes, it is older than the Press Trust of India or PTI). One of my first assignments in the job was to recruit correspondents, reporters, stringers in every district of Bengal and sub-editors in Kolkata. Out of all the journalists who had applied in the State that has a pathetic record in securing workers’ rights — many had not received salaries from their respective previous employers for months on end — a few were from various magazines and small-time newspapers run by swayamsevaks of the Sangh.
[pullquote]The senior journalist said his wife and children back in Kolkata would find it difficult to sustain, as the neighbourhood would turn hostile[/pullquote]
Except for two elderly gentlemen who had arrived superannuated from big media houses, everybody from the rest of applicants was in a dire need to secure a new job. The chief editor, the Kolkata bureau head and I recruited the best according to our intellectual capabilities. On coming back to Delhi, I found to my utter chagrin that even the few reporters we had taken from the Sangh stable had started dancing to Didi’s tune! Even the correspondent for faraway Darjeeling pleaded that he had to promote Trinamool-favoured Binay Tamang rather than pro-BJP Bimal Gurung. Or else, the senior journalist said, his wife and children back in Kolkata would find it difficult to sustain, as the neighbourhood would turn hostile. Simultaneously, his access to all State government ministries, offices, Nabanna and the Bengal Assembly, which was critical for his job, would come to an abrupt end.
Ruling by intimidation has been an old communist tactic — from Vladimir Lenin’s Soviet Union to Manik Sarkar’s Tripura. All that has changed in Bengal ever since is the party that practises it, much as the word “communist” does not figure in its name. It’s called the Trinamool (Mamata Banerjee, Derek O’Brien and other leaders of the party have dropped “Congress” from its name).
It is no surprise then that IAS and IPS officers must follow Didi’s diktat to complete their respective tenures peacefully in Bengal. Unless there is a sustained central rule in the State — President’s Rule ought to be renewed every six months — the scenario will not change.
It will, of course, be stupid of the BJP to invoke Article 356 and offer the Trinamool a windfall gain, as the anti-Centre sentiment in Bengalis would develop into sympathy for Mamata. However, this apprehension would hold only when the action is taken in the wake of a poll called by the Election Commission. If done way ahead of the polls, the people of the political island of Bengal will realise in a year or two how governance works in the rest of India. The Trinamool cannot benefit from either public sympathy or people’s fear of the village henchmen and trade union leaders affiliated to the party if a central rule is sustained over a prolonged period of time — as long as Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed on several occasions in the last three decades.
With no ideological grounding of the workers, unlike what is seen in CPM cadre, the organisational backing of the Trinamool will simply wither away between now and 2021 when the next Assembly election is due. That is when Bengal can experience not only free and fair elections but also a free and fair democracy at work throughout.