Media leaks embarrass Mamata government
They may not be as sensational as Wikileaks, but leaked footage and documents of official meetings, reports and correspondence in the media are proving no less embarrassing for West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government.
The state's Trinamool Congress government is stuttering from bloomers to blunders in managing the fallout of a clash between police and villagers related to an old land acquisition dispute.
The Nov 6 clash in Loba village in Birbhum district left 27 policemen and six villagers injured after police forces moved in to retrieve an earth-moving machine of a coal company DVC Emta Coal Mines Ltd which the villagers had refused to let go of since last December.
The Krishi Jami Rakkha Committee (Save Firmland Committee) set up against the land acquisition accused the police of opening fire on villagers.
But within hours, state home secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay rushed to the media to deny the charges.
"There was no police firing. The district police superintendent has informed me that the medical reports of the injured did not mention any remnant of bullets," he said.
No sooner had Bandopadhyay made the comments, TV channels caught hold of doctors attending to the victims in state run-hospitals to counter Bandopadhyay.
A couple of medicos did say in front of the camera that the injured villagers had bullet injuries.
The channels then went on to show footage of shells of bullets from Insas rifles which are normally used by police.
A day later, Chief Minister Banerjee threw herself into the ring as she repeated the denial about the firing and blamed the district police for deciding and carrying out the raid on Loba village on its own without consulting the higher ups in the state police or the government.
"My government had no knowledge of the police action," she said, announcing the district police chief has been asked to proceed on leave and a probe ordered.
The chief minister also claimed that the trouble was not connected to any land acquisition problem.
The counter came within hours. Some TV channels aired footages of letters the villagers had written to the state administration and the chief minister, complaining about the way company was forcibly acquiring their land.
The villagers also demanded compensation and rehabilitation in the letters.
Towards the evening, there was more damning news for the government.
The leaked preliminary report of the inquiry, which the chief minister had ordered, claimed that it was Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee and some district Trinamool leaders who had put pressure on the police superintendent to recover the machine.
The probe claimed that the police superintendent had then asked for permission to defer the action till the end of the Durga Puja, which the higher ups in the government agreed to.
On Nov 8, Chatterjee was quoted as telling a TV channel that he had gone to the area and spoken to the police about recovering the machine as the company had been requesting him for a long time.
"As a minister, I speak to the police superintendents so many times. As industries minister, what wrong have I done by asking police to recover the machine," the channel quoted Chatterjee, without showing any footage.
But a few hours after, Chatterjee denied this.
"I did not give any such orders. My department also gave no such orders. Whatever is being said about this is false. There may be a probe which can look into the conversations involving me," he told reporters.
However, there were more shockers for the government the next day.
Some Bengali news channels began airing rush footages of a meeting in the district held earlier this month where the minister was heard asking police to take action to recover the machine.
The footages, apparently shot with mobile phones by someone among those present at the meeting, showed Chatterjee asking for the officer in-charge of Dubrajpur police action and asking him sternly to do the needful. "Otherwise, we will have to bring a tougher person in this post," the minister said.
There has been no comment from the government on the footage yet.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)