In the early 1960s, food riots ravaged the city of Kolkata (then Calcutta), which led to the transfer of the then city Police Commissioner, ordered personally by the Union Home Minister, Gulzari Lal Nanda, who, if one remembers correctly, had paid a flying visit to the city in the wake of the troubles.

Last week, once again, the city’s police chief was transferred to the post of Director of Security, following the murder in broad daylight of a police sub-inspector in the port area of the city where, incidentally, a Deputy Commissioner of Police was brutally done to death by miscreants in the early 1980s.

The Chief Secretary of West Bengal described last week’s easing out of police chief from his job as action “in the overall interest of the State and for the sake of better administration”, reportedly emphasising that there was “nothing unusual” about the move. Certainly, there is nothing “unusual” about the transfer because, in recent times, it appears to have become the rule in West Bengal for officers — whether belonging to the IAS or the IPS — to be shunted around if they find themselves on the wrong side of the ruling party, whether the Left Front (prior to 2011) or the Trinamool Congress now.

As regards the claim that such transfers would aid the better administration of the State, there are more views than one on the subject because, on the face of it, the official view appears to be nothing if not preposterous.

Impartiality of Police

Frankly speaking, one is tempted to suggest that the Police Commissioner’s February 14 transfer was, in a way, his own doing in that his overtly “soft” behaviour towards politicians of the ruling party had encouraged them not to take him, and the Kolkata Police Force, seriously ever since the Trinamool Congress took over power in mid-2011.

Indeed, one has only to leaf through the newspapers since that time to list the instances where action taken by the police in specific instances appeared to be partial, thereby eroding the faith of the people in the impartiality of the police force.

It is being said that the police chief’s transfer by the Chief Minister followed his refusal to be browbeaten by at least one influential Minister into taking action, which would have had the effect of turning black into white. However, there is another point of view which holds that the police chief’s “refusal” was inevitable in the face of the seething anger spreading through the force at the blatant attempt by this particular Minister to politicise the issue, which had led to the death of one of its own members.

Change for the worse

Since it is now a proven fact that even the topmost police officer in Kolkata has not been left unscathed by the petty political battles of, in the words of the Bard, “underlings”, it is pertinent once again to pose the question: Where precisely is West Bengal heading under the stewardship of Mamata Banerjee? Briefly, this is not the “parivartan” which the people of the State looked forward to when they voted her into power in May 2011.

Indeed, if there has been any change under the post-Left Front political dispensation, it has been for the worse — except, perhaps, for the “beautification” of the city which has impoverished the Kolkata Municipal Corporation even further.

The other day, the GJM leader, Bimal Gurung, asked for President’s Rule to be imposed in West Bengal in view of the Chief Minister’s “immaturity in handling sensitive issues”.

It is unfortunate that a large number of those who voted for her in 2011 may be feeling the same way now, the supreme tragedy being that any shift in electoral preference at this juncture may be akin to jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire.

(This article was published on February 20, 2013)
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