'Trigger-happy' police haunt Mamata regime again (West Bengal Newsletter)
As a feisty opposition leader, Mamata Banerjee attacked the erstwhile Left Front government for police firing on protesting farmers in West Bengal's Nandigram, which signalled the beginning of the end of a powerful regime.
But now, as the chief minister, the same trigger-happy police force has come back to haunt Banerjee.
The chief minister kept mum for three days after police opened fire on protesters in Teratta in Nadia, killing one and injuring several others. But now, she has come out with a political conspiracy theory behind the incident.
"Considering what has happened, we must see as to why did it happen... who are behind this and the politics behind the incident," Banerjee said Friday.
Issuing a stern warning to political rivals, she said: "I'm ready to fight the political war declared against me but I'm the last person to tolerate a riot. Do not indulge in politics of violence."
The firing incident took place at the Houlia crossing of Tehatta subdivision Wednesday when villagers, demanding that they be allowed to perform a community 'puja' on a particular plot of land, clashed with police.
Initially, the government authorities tried to hush up the incident and denied that any firing took place. But the emergence of a video clip showing a policeman firing from his revolver forced them to admit the firing, albeit with a rider -- "it was done in self-defence".
"Police opened three rounds of fire in self-defence," Additional Director General (Law and Order) Surajit Kar Purakayastha said after the incident.
Two days after the incident, Banerjee too endorsed the self-defence theory. "Can anyone be allowed to enter someone's home and attack their family. If you were there, you would have done the same," the chief minister said.
However, the government's "self-defence" theory cuts no ice with former police officials and political opponents.
"There has been no evidence to show that policemen were attacked by the villagers or that the security personnel were injured. Moreover, the video clearly shows the man taking aimed shots, which is difficult to do under attack," a former police official said.
While political adversaries and villagers have rejected the self-defence claims, the man at the centre of the controversy, Tehatta sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Sailesh, said: "I would have been killed had I not fired."
The Tehatta video footage also brings into question the state government's denial of any police firing at Loba village in Birbhum district earlier this month.
"I am sure had there not been this video showing the policeman firing, the government would have denied that such an incident took place. They have denied firing in Birbhum, and they would have done the same in Tehatta," Left Front chairman Biman Bose said.
The political battle over the "Tehatta police firing" heated up more after the district administration prevented opposition leaders from visit the area citing law and order reasons.
While the Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Anisur Rahaman and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shamik Bhattacharya were stopped from entering Tehatta Thursday, union minister and Congress leader Deepa Dasmunshi was denied the permission Friday.
Dasmunshi later said she has sought the union government's intervention on the issue, since she was told to visit Tehatta to get the first hand account of the firing incident.
"It is a deliberate attempt by the Trinamool Congress government to suppress the truth. The manner in which I was prevented from visiting the area where the police firing occurred reflects the politicisation of the administration," she said.
Amid all the political brouhaha, victim Ashok Sen's family has claimed that he was not among the protesters and was caught in the violence.
"My husband always stayed away from politics. He had gone to buy vegetables from the market when police opened fire. My husband was innocent. He was not protesting," Sen's wife Sandhya said.
As a damage control measure, the state government has announced a compensation of Rs.two lakh for Sen's family and a government job to a family member.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)