Wednesday, May 16, 2012

West Bengal: A Year of Violence & Crime

16th May, 2012: This is not something the people of Bengal had bargained for when they bought the slogan of “paribortan” advanced by the TMC-Congress combine and decided to end 34 years of uninterrupted reign of the Left Front. Killings, arson, rape, molestation, physical assaults on women, forcible collection of money, eviction from land -- have all become a daily occurrence. It does not surprise them anymore. Slowly but surely, people have started comparing the current dispensation with the dreaded period of the seventies, when the state witnessed semi-fascist terror. Will the state fall back to those days is an apprehension being shared by more and more people.

Between the period May 14, 2011 when the TMC combine assumed office to May 12, 2012, as many as 65 Left Front leaders, activists and supporters have been brutally killed by TMC goons. 4904 persons had to be hospitalized on account of the injuries sustained in such attacks.

The steep rise in the overall crime graph points to the general deterioration in the law and order situation during the past one year, since the TMC combine assumed office. 40,124 people have been evicted from their homes. It is estimated that an amount of around Rs. 28 crores has been forcibly collected from 9529 persons.

There has been an alarming increasing in the number of rape cases. 23 cases of rape have been reported from different parts of the state during the past one year. Apart from this, there has also been an overall rise in the incidents of atrocities against women. During the first year of the TMC regime, and shamefully with a lady at the helm, 517 cases of molestation of women and 790 cases of physical assault on women have been reported. One of these cases pertains to the rape of a speech and hearing impaired girl in Bankura by a resident doctor within the hospital premises. In an overwhelming majority of these cases the culprits owe their allegiance to the ruling TMC. Unfortunately, however, in many cases, the complainants have been discredited, their character assassinated and motives assigned. In cases were police officers have investigated independently and proceeded against the culprits, they have been promptly transferred. The CM has had the cheek to call these cases “politically motivated” or “fabricated”, even if it meant tarnishing the image of the victim and defending the perpetrators of these crimes.

There has been a planned and systematic attack on land reforms implemented during the Left Front rule. Apart from 26,838 pata holders and bargardars (who had received tenancy rights during the tenure of Left Front government) who have been evicted from their lands, 3,418 peasants are not being allowed to cultivate their own land.

The attack has now spread to democratic institutions and the electoral process, besides the massive attack on the political opponents of the TMC.  Even the levels of intolerance have seen a steady growth. The innocuous act of forwarding an email containing a caricature of the Chief Minister saw a university professor, Ambikesh Mahapatra landing behind bars. Newspapers and periodicals that a library could subscribe to have all been listed and sent in an order to libraries across the state. Boards put up by the Ganashakti daily have been made a special target for attack. 250 of such boards on which the daily was pasted for reading by the public who could not afford purchasing the paper, have been destroyed. The democratic right to protest is also sought to be curtailed. Another renowned professor, Partho Sarothi Ray was arrested and jailed for taking part in a peaceful demonstration against eviction of slum dwellers.

Since October 2011, 38 incidents of attacks on the election process in different institutions in the state have been reported. 84 student union offices have been captured by the student wing owing allegiance to the TMC. Assault on students, teachers and staff in educational institutions are increasing.

It is but natural that the brunt has been borne by the CPI(M), the mass organisations under its leadership and its partners in the Left Front. Apart from the 65 leaders and cadres of the Left who have been mercilessly killed, 611 offices of the CPI(M) have been ransacked and captured. 217 offices of the mass organisations have been captured in different parts of the state. 14 Party conferences at various levels were attacked. 3293 persons have been arrested on the basis of false and fabricated cases being foisted on them. Arms are being planted in houses and offices of the Party and in subsequent raids “recoveries” are reported. The reported number of such cases is 169.

Besides, there has been a sharp increase in the number of kidnappings, looting of shops, dismantling of elected three tier panchayat bodies or forcible resignation of elected representatives.

But this is not all. In the seven month period between October 12, 2011 and May 12, 2011, agricultural distress has led 53 peasants to commit suicide, which the government is not ready to admit.(INN)

Post Poll Violence perpetrated by AITC and INC miscreants against CPI(M) & Left Front activists in West Bengal as reported from May 14, 2011 to May 12, 2012

At a glance

Abetted to commit suicide
Peasant suicides (from October 12, 2011)
Physical assault on women
Injured & hospitalized
Evicted from house
Ransacked, looted & burnt
CPI(M) office ransacked & captured
Attack on Party conferences
14 (from November 2011)
Mass organisations & trade union offices captured
Attack on the election process in different institutions
38 (from October 2011)
Student Union offices captured
Ganashakti Board destroyed
Pre-planned so called `arms recovery’
Arrest on false and fabricated cases
Forcefully collection of money. No – amount
9529 (+) Nos – 27 crore 87 lac 8 thousand
Not allowed to cultivate own land. No – Acre
3418 (+) Nos – 9222.73 Acre
Eviction of Patta Holder & Bargader. No – Acre
26838 (+) Nos – 9404.13
* Apart from the above statement, the incidents like kidnapping, assault on students-teachers-staffs, ransacking educational institutions, looting of shops, dismantling of elected three tier panchayat, forcing to resign from the elected bodies are not enlisted. 

Friday, May 4, 2012



West Bengal’s populist chief minister is doing badly. Yet she typifies shifts in power in India

THE ECONOMIST, Apr 21st 2012 | from the print edition

BUYER’S remorse is common enough in the dusty markets of Kolkata, a delightful if crumbling great city, once known as Calcutta and still capital of the state of West Bengal. Those who buy cheap plastic goods or plaster-of-Paris busts of Rabindranath Tagore, Bengal’s cultural hero, may come to regret their haste. Likewise, many who voted in last year’s state election. Sickened by 34 years of wretched Communist rule, they handed power to Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress. The sense of regret is palpable.

Her faults are not the usual ones. She appears honest; home remains a two-storey whitewashed box in a humble bit of Kolkata, wedged between a fetid river and a tumbledown bakery. Her passions are not accumulating Ferraris but landscape painting and poetry. A prominent Bengali businessman praises her energy and direct manner, forgiving her much as she struggles with a dire legacy. The state is India’s most indebted, and, despite a little spurt in the Communists’ relatively reformist final years, enjoys little development beyond Kolkata, which has sprouted a property boom and outposts of India’s outsourcing empires.

One set of complaints (Bengalis are talented, versatile grumblers) is over her style. “Mindset of a Stalinist”, a journalist concludes. Cabinet colleagues “live in mortal terror”, a senior party figure says. Her rule is “a one-man army”, a young critic jeers. An autocratic bent leads to grotesque blunders. She claimed that a victim of gang rape was conspiring to discredit her rule, and punished a bright policewoman who caught the assailants. Then this month she failed to disavow the arrest of two academics, one of whom was beaten. He had merely shared a cartoon about her on Facebook and by e-mail. This suggested that she cannot take even mild criticism. So does the alleged banning of newspapers she dislikes from public libraries. Aveek Sarkar, a tycoon whose media group is critical, expects her to order his arrest: he has lodged “anticipatory bail” in eight as yet imaginary cases.

Defenders claim she is growing in the job, for which a few years as a minister in Delhi running the railways (badly) failed to prepare her. Derek O’Brien, her Anglo-Indian spokesman, claims somewhat limply that “you haven’t seen the best of Mamata yet”. Complaints about her style seem mainly confined to the urban elite. A bigger concern is what she does with power. She has notched up one success: cracking down on Maoist insurgents in their rural base. Otherwise, things look grim. Most worrying, her economic policies outflank even the Communists on the left. Trinamool, which means grassroots, won after she led a campaign against plans by Tata, India’s biggest firm, to build a car factory on land she claimed was taken unfairly from farmers. Tata fled to a friendlier state, Gujarat, taking jobs, but voters cheered.

A populist not an ideologue, Ms Banerjee’s success reflects a long-term trend across India: the rise of regional parties at the expense of the national ones. Poorer, less educated, rural people (“theLumpen! the Luddites!” an educated Bengali sighs, in his plush office), who vote in greater numbers than the wealthier minority, seem increasingly to prefer local parties, often, at least in the north, with a statist bent. Ms Banerjee’s political approach is to dish out public jobs and welfare and protect small farmers, and to duck reforms that might lure investors to the state. Her government did recently pass a law allowing business to lease modest plots of public land. Yet she vows loudly never to help industry buy it. And with land titles a confused mess of fragmented ownership, it is likely that land-hungry firms will stay away.

More energy is devoted to symbols and aesthetics. The state has a new name, “Paschim Banga”. And Ms Banerjee seems to think the way to lure tourists to Kolkata is to paint every railing, kerbside, public urinal, roundabout and bridge in blue-and-white stripes. She has also ordered that loudspeakers blast Tagore’s music at junctions in the city, while Marx is purged from the school curriculum. Yet she will not go to business forums, and rejects meetings with ambassadors hoping to promote industry ties. The state’s budget last month reimposed a barmy entry tax on goods from elsewhere in India. That will distort trade but raise almost no revenue. Then this week Infosys, a big software firm, put on hold a development centre that would have created over 10,000 jobs. Ms Banerjee refused to allow a special economic zone offering tax relief.

All this will prove costly, in time. Farmers alone produce too little tax revenue to pay for planned roads, electricity, schools and hospitals. All her government’s revenue goes to pay salaries and interest on its 2 trillion-rupee ($40 billion) debt. That leaves Ms Banerjee with a single destructive strategy: begging and threatening the central government in Delhi in order to secure debt relief. As a crucial ally of the ruling Congress party, she is in a strong position. But the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, is her main Bengali rival, and he refuses special help. The result is paralysis for West Bengal and India. She helps block the government’s reforms—on foreign investment in supermarkets; cutting fuel subsidies; the railways budget; a water-sharing deal with Bangladesh; an anti-graft bill. But she gets no relief.

Follow the blue-and-white brick road

The stand-off will continue. Congress wants its candidate elected as India’s president in July, and will need her help. She and some other state leaders want to wrest more powers from the centre, notably by scuppering a planned national counter-terrorism body. As the ruling coalition’s spoiler-in-chief, she typifies rising regional clout at a time when the centre is weakly led. Her party talks grandly of a concept of “operative federalism”, meaning that states should get more control of public funds. So the tensions with Congress will rise. But nobody expects her to fly away from its coalition soon. She may be seen as a mischief-maker; but, at least as yet, not quite as the wicked witch of the East.

West Bengal gets a controversy a day

An issue a day keeps boredom at bay ” this could well be the guiding principle of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee these days.

MID-DAY, April 16 07:35:58, 2012
KOLKATA, Agencies

How else does one explain her government regularly dishing out controversies on a platter to her political opponents? The baton charging of women protesting eviction from a slum by male police, the arrest of those agitating against the assault, muscle flexing by ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) men vis-a-vis a small but feisty human rights group close to Banerjee’s Kalighat residence — the unending chain of events in a short span of time has triggered much condemnation from across society.

You’re joking! Ambikesh Mahapatra, who allegedly forwarded the Mamata cartoons,  was booked for outraging the modesty of a woman, defamation, and hacking

However, the midnight arrest of a Jadavpur University professor and a septuagenarian retired engineer in connection with the online circulation of a cartoon strip which the authorities saw as defaming Banerjee, or ‘Didi’ as she is popularly known, was the icing on the cake. The collage of cartoons allegedly forwarded by physical chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra included the photographs of Banerjee and Railway Minister Mukul Roy and used some dialogues of filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s Bengali detective masterpiece Sonar Kella.
It showed the two TMC leaders discussing how to get rid of party leader Dinesh Trivedi. Subrata Sengupta, a former Public Works Department engineer, was taken into custody, as Mahapatra had sent the cartoons from the registered e-mail id of the housing cooperative of which Sengupta was secretary. The mail account had been opened in Sengupta’s name.
But what was more laughable were the charges. The duo was booked for outraging the modesty of a woman, defamation and hacking. Though the professor and the retired engineer got bail from the court, there was a distinct similarity in the modus operandi in their case as also that involving the attack on the human rights group.
The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) activists, intending to take out a pre-announced procession, were first roughed up by youths allegedly close to TMC. Within minutes, police, instead of taking action against the culprits, arrested the APDR people. Mahapatra was also first allegedly beaten up by TMC men and forced to write out a signed statement that he had circulated the cartoon “motivatedly” as he was a CPI-Marxist activist. And then police swung into action based on a complaint by someone who does not even have an e-mail account to take the professor and the retired, ailing engineer into custody.
After their release, Mahapatra filed a counter complaint, and buckling under the storm of protests, four of the youths were arrested. But they were bailed out within hours. Now there is a fresh angle to the story. It has been reported that those who attacked Mahapatra were members of a building material suppliers’ syndicate with links to the TMC. It is being said that bills worth Rs 17 lakh submitted by suppliers were being withheld by the housing society which doubted how genuine these were. Mahapatra is assistant secretary of the cooperative. Meanwhile Banerjee appears unfazed. While she defended the arrests, a source close to her said, “This will not have any impact on her support base, as very few people are bothered with Facebook and Twitter.” 

One year on, an outraged Bhadralok divests from Didi

Smita Gupta
The Hindu, April 19, 2012 01:02 IST

In the summer of 2001, it was evident as I travelled through West Bengal that fatigue had set in with the Left Front government. Earlier, in end-2000, anticipating the public mood, Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran Jyoti Basu had stepped down as Chief Minister, paving the way for Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. This ensured the Left victories in 2001 and 2006.
The Left extended its life by a decade not merely because Mr. Bhattacharya gave it a new look but also because the only option before the people was Mamata Banerjee. Ms Banerjee leading her three-year-old Trinamool Congress, didn't seem capable of serious governance. I recall many conversations in Kolkata: yes, Bengal needs a change, but Didi simply can't be trusted to govern the State. If her trajectory as an opposition leader is clearly the stuff legends are made of, her forays into government — as Minister of State for Youth and Sports in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government (1991-93) and as Union Minister for Railways in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government (1999-2001) — had been less than inspiring.
That scepticism turned into burning impatience with the Left government a year after it returned to power in 2006. If the anti-land acquisition agitations in Nandigram and Singur saw a rural uprising against the Left Front, the latter's inability to contain the situation and the human rights violations ensured that Kolkata's vocal middle class, from club-going boxwallas to jhola-carrying intellectuals, all signed up for poriborton.
Censorship, arrest
But today, a month short of celebrating a year in power, Ms Banerjee's honeymoon with the opinion-making middle class is over, the shroud of censorship she has flung across the State proving to be the last straw. The watershed moment was the arrest of a Jadavpur University chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra on charges of violating the modesty of a woman, spreading social ill will and disrupting social harmony, merely for sharing a cartoon online. Later, it transpired that Dr. Mahapatra, as assistant secretary of the New Garia Development Cooperative Housing Society — where he lives — had blocked the Trinamool-backed syndicate's contracts to supply building materials, earning the wrath of the party's goon squads.
This episode has galvanised the middle class, especially the intellectuals who had jumped the Left Front ship for the Trinamool. Result: a Twitter campaign, “Arrest me if you dare, Mamata Bannerjee,” and an online petition on Facebook mobilising support against the government's actions. R.K. Laxman's “The Common Man,” mouth sealed with two strips of bandage, and a graphic of a male face, hands covering the eyes and mouth, adorn these accounts. Unfazed, the State CID has asked Facebook to delete morphed images of Ms Banerjee, after a Trinamool supporter complained that “objectionable comments” were flooding social networking sites. Since then, a group of intellectuals has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemning the Mahapatra episode that came on the heels of another arrest — that of molecular biologist Partha Sarathi Ray who had in April joined a protest against the eviction of slum dwellers in east Kolkata. The signatories include Noam Chomsky, Mriganka Sur and Abha Sur of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, top scientists from the IITs and institutions in Denmark, Singapore and Sweden, as well as activists like Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey.
But Ms Banerjee remains unperturbed: for her, in an odd reversal of the State's politics, these are her “class enemies” — the elitist English speaking middle class, whom she referred to in an interview she gave last month to NDTV; those who, she said, have contempt for her humble origins.
As Chief Minister, she has made it clear she will not tolerate a differing view, much less dissent, within her party or government — or, indeed, far more troubling, in the State. If Mr. Dinesh Trivedi was unceremoniously sacked as Union Railway Minister for not toeing her line on the Union Railway budget, Damayanti Sen, the feisty, young Joint Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, who cracked the Park Street rape case, was shunted out to an obscure job for proving Ms Banerjee wrong: her first response to the rape charge and, indeed, news of infant cradle deaths, was that they had been “manufactured to malign her government.”
Newspaper issue
Now that intolerance has spread to the wider world: last month, government libraries were told to purchase only eight newspapers — those taken off the list were those critical of her actions and policies, as they prevented “freethinking” among readers. In future, she said, she might even ask people to stop buying certain newspapers “because a conspiracy is going on against us.” The newspapers that offended her included the top-selling Ananda Bazaar Patrika,The Telegraph and Bartaman: interestingly, Bartaman, whose strident anti-Left stance played a leading role in bringing the Trinamool to power, is now running stories highly critical of Ms Banerjee. Later, under pressure, five newspapers — a Nepali daily, two Bengali dailies, and The Times of India — were restored to the “government” list. An embarrassed Library Services Minister Abdul Karim Chowdhary said the government had not imposed censorship or banned the big papers, it only wished to promote small newspapers.
But to the “freethinking” reading public, it is more than apparent that those that made the cut in the first list were all pro-government: one such Bengali newspaper is owned by a Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP, whose associate editor, Kunal Ghosh, is among the three journalists recently elected to the upper house of Parliament on the party ticket. For Ms Banerjee, the switch from goddess-status to a daily scrutiny of her actions has been a rude shock, as all through her opposition years, she depended heavily on media support. Today, it's well-known in Kolkata's political circles that she looks to a chosen group of journalists, including the new Rajya Sabha MPs, rather than her political colleagues, for advice on all issues.
Unfortunately, for her, some of these “advisers” are now coming under the scanner as one of them works for a chain of media outfits backed by a chit fund, the subject of an ongoing controversy. Last September, Trinamool MP Somen Mitra wrote to Dr. Singh, urging action against chit funds channelling money into real estate, film production, the hotel business — and the media. He also alleged that these chit funds were prospering, thanks to political patronage, with some owners even in Parliament. Last month, Congress MP A.H. Khan Chowdhury wrote a similar letter to Dr. Singh, asking for an investigation into the activities of these chit funds. Indeed, the link between hot money and media organisations backing Ms Banerjee's government is now an open secret in Kolkata.
In the dying days of the Left Front government in West Bengal, the CPI (M)'sharmad sena, or goon squads rampaging through its villages, came to symbolise its 34 years. Today, those goon squads have switched political allegiance to her Trinamool. If the violence continues unabated — with the Left now at the receiving end — intolerance of any criticism of the new government has added a fresh dimension to the State's politics. “Harmad theke unmad (from unmitigated violence to untempered madness”) is the despairing phrase most used on Kolkata's streets to describe the prevailing situation in Bengal.
The middle class that turned the tide of public opinion in the Trinamool's favour is angry.
Writer Mahasweta Devi, among those who had backed Ms Banerjee, recently said: “Dictatorship has never worked. It has neither worked in Hitler's Germany nor did it work in Mussolini's Italy.” Ms Banerjee needs to heed those words: for even if her popularity is still intact in rural Bengal, recent events represent the thin end of the wedge.