On August 8, Belpahari — a village in West Midnapur which had been in the forefront of the “struggle” against the former Left Front Government since the nineties — once more shot into the limelight for a reason which will not stand the Trinamool Government in good stead in the months and years ahead.
Put very simply, the Indian republic is grounded in the tenets of Parliamentary democracy, which were violated brazenly by none other than Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself.
What makes the entire episode tragic is that Banerjee is a forceful democrat herself, her march to power in May last year being wholly dependent on her being able to focus sharply the frustration and dissatisfaction of the people of the State with the growing authoritarian tendencies of the erstwhile Left Front Government.
‘I know them’
At Belpahari, while the Chief Minister was telling the crowd (as reported) “on how Maoists entering Belpahari from Jharkhand and Odisha were trying to scupper the Government’s development plans in Jangalmahal,” a man sitting in the front row stood up, pointed a finger at the Chief Minister, and charged her thus: “You are making false promises. You know well that your promises will never be fulfilled. Why are you lying to poor people like us.”
Reportedly, Banerjee turned furious, and pointing a finger at the man shouted into the microphone: “Catch him immediately. I have information that four-five Maoists are present at the meeting venue. They are trying to create disturbance.”
After the man was led away by the police, the Chief Minister turned to the crowd and said: “Did you see how I caught one of them red-handed? I know them.”
Reports appearing on August 9 on the incident said that the police later freed the man — mistakenly identified as Duryodhan Mahato (his real name being Shiladitya Chowdhury) — as they found nothing incriminating about him.
Indeed, a Belpahari police station officer was even quoted as saying that he was an “aggrieved villager” and they could not establish any link between him and the Maoists.
The officer went so far as to say that “he only expressed his displeasure as he said he believed that the Chief Mjinister’s assurances would not help him in any way. So we decided to release him.”
The matter ought to have ended there, the arm of the law having taken its own course after the Chief Minister put them on to a scent which failed to yield any result.
But Chowdhury was picked up by the police again on August 11 while tilling his land at Nayagram, an hour away by bus from Belpahari, arresting him (as reported) “on non-bailable charges, including criminal intimidation, which carries a maximum (punishment) of life term in prison or even death.”
The police are reported to have said that Chowdhury had entered a high-security zone with “mala fide intentions and tried to create a ruckus.”
Further, it was stated that when the police “went to arrest him on that day (August 8), he fled after a scuffle.”
What should the average citizen make of this entire episode?
Let us quote Markandey Katju, formerly of the Supreme Court and now Chairman of the Press Council of India: “She (the Chief Minister) is totally undeserving to be a political leader in a democratic country like India since she has no respect for constitutional and civil rights of citizens and is totally dictatorial, intolerant, and whimsical in her behaviour.”
How does Banerjee view this scathing indictment?
After all, she swept to power in West Bengal on the crest of a veritable tsunami of popular support.