By Sirshendu Panth, Kolkata, Dec 15 IANS | 8 months ago

The allegation of sexual assault levelled against retired Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly by a law intern has yet again exposed the great political divide in West Bengal.


While the ruling Trinamool Congress is going all guns blazing, demanding he step down as state human rights panel chief, the opposition Congress and the Left Front have come up with muted reactions.

The Trinamool Congress regime of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has enjoyed a frosty and often bitter relations with Ganguly since he took over as chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) in April last year.

The state government has come in for sharp indictments from the commission on a number of occasions. Causing embarrassment to the Trinamool dispensation, Ganguly has repeatedly summoned top officials, sought suo motu reports and imposed fines on human rights issues.

The WBHRC under Ganguly ordered the state government to pay compensation to Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and his neighbour who were arrested for circulating emails mocking Banerjee. It also directed the government to pay compensation to a farmer who was dubbed by the chief minister as a Maoist and arrested by the police after he asked her about the rising price of fertiliser at a public rally.

About three-and-a-half months back, the commission further annoyed the regime by recommending Rs.10 lakh compensation for the custodial death of opposition Communist Party of India's students' arm leader Sudipto Gupta.

In such a backdrop, the Trinamool lost no time in demanding Ganguly's scalp as WBHRC chief ever since the intern's allegation became public and his name cropped up as the alleged offender. The party upped its ante after Ganguly was indicted by a three-member committee of sitting judges of the Supreme Court probing the charges of sexual harassment.

Lawyer and member of parliament (MP) Kalyan Banerjee fired the first salvo, saying Ganguly had no "moral right" to continue in the high office. "What he did is a blot on the judicial system of the country and a person who himself is an accused should not be allowed to determine others' rights."

Derek O'Brien, the articulate Rajya Sabha MP of the party, was quick to follow up. Using his blog, Twitter and in interaction with journalists, the renowned quiz master has launched a tirade against Ganguly.

As a defiant Ganguly chose to continue in the post, and even presided over the WBHRC-organised programme on Human Rights Day Wednesday, O'Brien's response was scathing.

"It would be apt if Justice Ganguly chose the UN Human Rights Day to step down and cleanse his office. Sir, please don't mock your office. Violators can't be guardians," he said on Twitter.

Even the chief minister has joined the chorus for Ganguly's removal by writing twice to President Pranab Mukherjee, seeking urgent action against him and making it public on her Facebook page.

Taking the battle to the streets, a group of lawyers and human rights activists close to the Trinamool burnt Ganguly's effigy and held a candle rally from the Press Club Thursday, asking him to quit.

In sharp contrast, the main opposition CPI-M has limited itself by fielding its women's arm, the All India Democratic Women's Association, which issued a statement demanding Ganguly's punishment.

On the other hand, CPI-M central committee member Mohammed Salim found the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Trinamool stand fishy. "The way the BJP has backed the Trinamool demand for his resignation, that is something which more than meets the eye."

Senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the state's ruling party was trying to get even with the former Supreme Court judge who as the panel chief made several recommendations against the government.

"Considering the ramifications, Ganguly should step down on moral grounds. But the mannerism of the Trinamool reflects its deep grouse against Ganguly," said Chowdhury.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

(Posted on 15-12-2013)