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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 46

The Rizwanur Affair and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

Letter From Kolkata

Saturday 3 November 2007, by Amitava Mukherjee


Although nothing should be predicted so far as the investigation into the tragic death of Rizwanur Rehman, the unfortunate young man from Kolkata, is concerned as the CBI has just started the probe, yet his death and the consequent events have conclusively proved the insincerity and ineptness of the West Bengal Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. At a time when the Rizwanur episode has exposed the soft underbelly of the CPM-led administration, a similarly ominous development in the form of mass upsurge against a corrupt and virtually broken down food rationing system in the State has gone a long way in establishing that the ‘dhoti’-clad Marxists have almost destroyed the fruits of whatever good work was done by the B.C. Roy, Prafulla Sen and even Siddhartha Sankar Ray-led administrations.

It is now time for Buddhadeb to know that his stock within the CPM is extremely low. Who really now takes vital policy decisions for the West Bengal Government? Buddhadeb tries hard to project that by being the Chief Minister he is the ultimate boss. Poor Nirupam Sen, whose other job, till recently, was fruitless demagogy on the streets of Burdwan town, may suddenly consider himself important as he has been confabulating with industrialists. There are other Ministers whose departments sound big. But there are certain core people in the Alimuddin Street, the CPM State headquarters, who actually formulate vital policies and watch over the State Government’s actions. These people were extremely dissatisfied with the way Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was handling the Rizwanur affair. They were also not at all convinced by the Advocate General’s submission in the High Court. Their own inquiries into the matter told them that Buddhadeb was certain to lose the legal battle in court. His position inside the party is not at all sound.

The Rizwanur episode has now attracted national attention and put the West Bengal Government on the mat. Several points remain unexplained. Why was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee so slow in taking administrative actions against those police officers who are alleged to have threatened the hapless young man? Why did he institute a judicial inquiry by a retired judge and not by a sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court? The Chief Minister repeatedly said that action would be taken after the inquiries (by the CID) would be complete. Then why did he choose to lose his face by transferring those officials after the scathing judgement from the the High Court?

The answer lies in the fact that the West Bengal Government is a rudderless one. Just look at the persons involved in the controversy. Prasun Mukherjee, the disgraced former Police Commissioner, is close to Buddhadeb. He stood up against Jagmohan Dalmia for the post of the CAB President as Buddhadeb’s man. Gyanwant Singh is known to be too close to the CPM. As the Superintendent of Police, Murshidabad district, he dug up some old cases against Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress MP. Not much of this genre is known about Ajay Kumar, another IPS officer allegedly involved in this case. But his actions have drawn him into the quagmire this time.

Perhaps it will be unfair to suggest that Buddhadeb tried to shield these people. But at the same time it cannot be denied that he showed every sign of indecision and procrastination. He should have been more careful about a particular police officer against whom Afzal Amanullah, presently the Bihar Home Secretary and an observer during a previous parliamentary election in West Bengal, had lodged complaints with the Election Commission for political partisanship.

THE woes of the West Bengal Government are certain to increase in the days to come because of its flawed political philosophy. In the last thirty years Marxism of the dhoti-clad Bengali bhadralok has practically destroyed West Bengal as can be seen from the ongoing unrest in the rural parts of the State over alleged corruption in the public distribution system. The CPM’s reaction to the turmoil is marked by typical short-sightedness and narrowmindedness, the two traits which every sensible administration must avoid. It is trying to portray the ongoing agitation as attempts to destroy the public distribution system.
The truth, as revealed by various newspaper surveys, is that hardly any PDS is now in existence in West Bengal. The nature of the ongoing outrage suggests that the common people have identified the panchayat system with the alleged corruption and breakdown of the PDS. Another noteworthy feature is that some CPM leaders, including an MIA and several panchayat pradhans, have become targets of public ire.
This turn of events was the inevitable outcome of vesting the politically elected panchayats with huge power and money. It was an absolutely myopic and self-destructive exercise when, in the name of participatory democracy, no attempt was made to realise whether a large segment of the people was really fit and ready to participate in the concept of the three-tier panchayat system. It may sound harsh but the truth lies in the fact that in the previous system of bureaucratic dispensation there were more checks and balances. Corruption was not non-existent but its volume was certainly much less. Moreover the previous system had not resulted in such large scale decomposition of the society.

The Left leadership cannot escape the accusing fingers for there was a suggestion from the departed veteran Gandhian, Prafulla Chandra Sen, that Panchayat elections should be held on a non-political, non-party basis which the Communists brushed aside. The problem of the State in this regard has been further compounded by some middle class people (like a former bureaucrat who is never tired of shouting from the roof-tops about the ‘positive contributions’ of the panchayat system in the State) who failed to ponder over the question whether objective conditions for handing over such massive amounts of money and power to the panchayats prevailed in the State as well as in the country.

Why is there an attempt on the part of the CPM in particular to portray the ongoing agitation in rural West Bengal as an attempt to destroy the PDS system when, according to newspaper reports, the State Government has itself admitted in a report to the Central Government that the unrest is due to ‘shortcomings in the public distribution system’ as reportedly disclosed by Sharad Pawar in a letter to Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi. Will the CPM or the other Left parties contradict this report? They should certainly come out with detailed analyses of what are these shortcomings really?

It is now certainly a debatable point whether the Bengali civil society should have much reason to have faith in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee? He has given a pathetic account of himself over the Rizwanur affair. Whether Rizwanur was murdered or he committed suicide is a matter of investigation by the CBI. After the Calcutta High Court ordered the CBI inquiry on a petition filed by Rizwanur’s family members, the Chief Minister publicly said that the State Government had never objected to the content of the petition but contested only whether the High Court had the jurisdiction to order a CBI probe over the head of the State Government.

Let us now look at what the Advocate-general said before the High Court. The AG’s contention was that the appeal for a CBI inquiry by Rizwanur’s mother was not maintainable, as she had not gone to any magistrate or police authority with complaints of threat or pressure tactics. He even went to the extent of saying that the alleged intimidation by police officers, even if taken to be true, is not a cognisable offence.

In the light of the Advocate General’s assertions, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s above statements are self-explanatory in nature.

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