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Thursday 23 February 2012

Ex-MLA smashed to death Bandh stage for bloodspill


It is almost like a new era in West Bengal. Almost. The chief minister has said that no government employee who is absent from work on February 28, the day of the all-India industrial strike, will be granted leave. There is not only firmness in this but partial consistency too, for the statement falls in line with the general anti-bandh approach that Mamata Banerjee has been championing as chief of government. Actually, this attitude is slightly older. Towards the end of her stint as Opposition leader, Ms Banerjee had displayed her sense of responsibility by refusing to call bandhs or support them even if they were called by allies. But that came after years of disruptive rallies and bandhs by the Trinamul Congress. The sudden anti-disruption stance had a very persuasive political cause: Ms Banerjee was out to win all segments of the urban vote and show by her actions that Bengal would turn around if she came to power. Now she is undoubtedly doing her best, but is it enough for people to forget that the anti-strike passion is of rather recent vintage?
To be fair, is there any leader in Bengal who has a principled stand regarding strikes, be it for or against? Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has just demonstrated that bandhs are neither good nor bad, only position makes them so. He has publicly declared that his tirade against strikes when he was chief minister was a "mistake" — a word he loves — and he and his party are out to turn the industrial strike into a general strike just to dare the government to "foil" them. There is a perfection to this volte face. Once again, people will carry on with their lives all over India during the industrial strike on February 28 while the brilliant politicians and their mindless followers in Bengal shut the state down in a show of muscle. The "challenge" is all the Communist Party of India (Marxist), eloquently championed by Mr Bhattacharjee, can think of, hoping that the government will have no option but to come down hard. Violence is welcome, because it will disguise success or failure by intimidating people. It is an unfortunate state that deserves such leaders, and a farcical situation where strikes and bandhs evoke no consistent response from them.

Ex-MLA smashed to death
Bandh stage for bloodspill

Burdwan, Feb. 22: A former CPM legislator was axed and bludgeoned to death in Burdwan this morning by alleged Trinamul Congress supporters in one of the most gruesome political murders in the state where battlelines have been drawn over the February 28 bandh.
Another CPM leader who tried to rescue former MLA Pradip Tah, 54, was also killed in the clash, the stage for which appears to have been set by a drive to mobilise support for the Left-backed general strike on Tuesday.
However, accounts from eyewitnesses and police sources suggest that the row over the strike only provided the spark.
Pradip Tah, an influential leader who had staved off the anti-Left wave in his pocketborough, appeared to have been singled out for the murderous attack. No other CPM activist was injured and Kamal Gayen, 65, former secretary of the CPM's Burdwan Sadar zonal committee, was killed when he rushed to save Pradip Tah.
Chitralekha, Pradip Tah's wife and a headmistress, told The Telegraph that an armed group led by Patit Paban Tah had reached her home at 9am and warned that she would become a widow soon. "They said that was the price I would have to pay for marrying a man like my husband," she said.
Around 45 minutes later, the attackers picked out Pradip Tah from a procession, slashed at him with a tangi (axe), battered him with rods and then smashed his face with a boulder.
Among the four arrested later was the suspect named by Chitralekha: Patit Paban Tah. The other three are Chhoton Chakraborty, Bhupal Goswami and Surajit.
A police officer in Burdwan said the four were Trinamul supporters. But Swapan Debnath, the Trinamul president in Burdwan, denied that his party was involved in any way in the killings. "It was the villagers who carried out the attack on the CPM persons," said Debnath.
At least one Trinamul minister also cited a "spontaneous" backlash triggered by "janarosh". "This was a spontaneous protest against harmads. This was a pre-planned attack on the village. There was janarosh (people's anger). Trinamul supporters have got nothing to do with the deaths," minister Firad Hakim said.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is in New Delhi, saw a CPM hand also. Replying to a question on how the former MLA was "butchered", Mamata said: "No, he was not butchered. There are many cases pending against him. This is a result of the CPM's internal feud. If you want to know more, ask the state government."
Legal sources in Burdwan said Pradip Tah was an accused in the murder of a Congress MLA in 1981. Although Pradip Tah was arrested and lodged in jail, all accused were eventually acquitted because of lack of evidence. Other than this, the sources could not immediately recall any big case pending against the former MLA.
The former MLA, who had won the Burdwan North seat in 2006, had been a constant thorn in Trinamul's side. Although Pradip Tah could not contest from the constituency last year as it was reserved for Scheduled Castes, he ensured that the CPM candidate won the seat in spite of the rapid advances made by Trinamul in what was once an impregnable red citadel.
If the Left had won 23 of the 26 Assembly seats in Burdwan in 2006, Trinamul bagged as many as 15 of the 25 (one seat less after delimitation) last year. CPM sources said an attempt was made on Pradip Tah's life three months ago.
Around 7.45 this morning, CPM workers had put up party flags on houses, shops and lampposts in Dewandighi and the adjoining Mirzapur in support of the strike called by the trade unions on February 28.
The CPM workers allegedly removed a Trinamul flag and foisted a red flag on a cloth-cum-shoe store owned by a Trinamul supporter. The shop-owner, Bidyut Baran Hazra, said he protested.
District CPM secretary Amal Haldar denied that CPM workers had taken out any Trinamul flag while putting up party flags and posters in support of the February 28 strike.
An altercation followed and Hazra informed other Trinamul supporters in the locality. The row soon snowballed into a clash and Hazra and a CPM worker, Rupkumar Gupta, were injured. Both were admitted to Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.
"Hazra received 10 stitches on his head while Gupta, who suffered internal haemorrhage, has been sent to SSKM Hospital in Calcutta," said a doctor.
By then, Pradip Tah and other CPM workers, who were at the Burdwan zonal committee office in Dewandighi, had rushed to the hospital. After lodging an FIR with the police, Pradip Tah returned to the party office and it was decided to bring out a procession to protest the clash. Following the brawl in Mirzapur, a police party was posted in the area. However, they could not prevent what followed.
A little after 9.30am, Pradip Tah led the procession that had around 100 party workers, including women. Around 9.45am, nearly 40 Trinamul activists, armed with rods, sticks and axes divided in two groups and approached the procession from the front and behind.
"It appears that Pradip Tah was their target because no other CPM person has reported any grievous injury. Gayen was killed because, according to witnesses we spoke to, he tried to stop the attackers from killing Pradip Tah," a senior police officer said.
Moloy Gupta, a farmer from a nearby village and on his way to a grocer, said: "I saw Pradip Tah lying on the ground shouting for help while two men were smashing his face with a boulder. I was terrified and ran for my life.
"The police could have easily prevented the killing of the two party leaders with the police headquarters so close by. The police are not working independently. They are being controlled by political leaders," said Surjya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition, who reached Burdwan town.
Asked about the alleged police inaction, the district superintendent of police, S.M.H. Meerza, said: "We are inquiring. We had sent reinforcements to Dewandighi but the incident had already taken place by then."
The CPM has called a 12-hour bandh in Burdwan district tomorrow. Pradip Tah's body was brought to Calcutta and kept in Peace Haven. Tomorrow, the body will be taken to the Assembly.

Two orders, two faces

Calcutta, Feb. 22: The Mamata Banerjee government had granted up to six days of special casual leave to 1,000-odd elected delegates of a Trinamul-backed employees' union less than two months ago, according to the copy of an order with The Telegraph.
The permission in December stands out in sharp contrast with an order issued by the government yesterday that no leave would be granted to employees on February 28 when a Left-backed general strike has been called.
The order on Tuesday was a departure from the years of blessings the Left had showered on its sympathisers, enabling them to take part in bandhs.
However, what chief minister Mamata Banerjee could have held up as a model of badly needed work culture in Bengal now runs the risk of being branded partisan because of the December order.
The earlier order (No. 11625-F (P), dated December 30, 2011) granting the special leave was issued by the finance department.
The order mentioned the reason: "Grant of special casual leave to enable the elected delegates of the State Government Employees Federation (WB) (Unified) to attend their 6th Triennial State Conference."
The State Government Employees Federation — a Trinamul-backed union — has been at the forefront at Writers' to neutralise the Left-supported Co-ordination Committee.
"The decision of not granting leave on February 28 is nothing but double standard. If this government is so concerned about work culture, why did they grant special casual leave to 1,000-plus employees? Was it because it was a Trinamul event?" asked a senior state government official.
According to him, the state government has the discretion to grant special casual leave — beyond the stipulated 14 days of casual leave — to its employees.
In the order, signed by an assistant secretary in the finance department, the employees were divided into three categories — based on their place of work — to decide on the number of days of special casual leave for the programme, where the speakers included finance minister Amit Mitra and central minister Mukul Roy.
Industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who had defended yesterday's directive, said he was not aware of the December order. "Our position is very clear. We are not against employees forming associations. But trade unionism among government employees will not be allowed," Chatterjee told The Telegraph.
Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra mentioned the government's doublespeak at a news conference outside the Assembly this afternoon.
"The government granted leave for a political purpose. Many of these employees even took part in the panchayat department employees' conference, which was held at the same time," said Mishra.
According to Mishra and several members of the Co-ordination Committee, the government did not have the right to deny leave on a particular day.
During the Left rule, government employees enjoyed a provision that allowed them to take leave if they did not show up on a bandh day.
"The order makes it clear that the claim of improving work culture is only on paper. This government only wants to foil the CPM's bandh," said a government official.
The December order also indicated that the new government has no qualms in following a Left model when it suits its purpose. The grant of special casual leave started during the Left regime and the members of the Co-ordination Committee benefited from it.
"Now Trinamul leaders in the State Government Employees Federation will be the beneficiaries," said a government employee.

Echo of jumping the gun (continued)

Pradip Tah's daughter Pritha gives the red salute in front of his body as wife Chitralekha breaks down at the CPM district committee office in Burdwan on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Feb. 22: From Park Street to Dewandighi.
Mamata Banerjee and other senior Trinamul leaders today either termed the murders of CPM leaders Pradip Tah and Kamal Gayen the result of the party's "internal feud" or "janarosh (people's anger)", continuing to prejudge a crime before police completes investigations.
Earlier this month, the chief minister had dubbed the Park Street rape case "concocted to malign my government", immediately after the crime came to light. The police probe, however, revealed last week that the victim had indeed been raped. Some of the accused are already in the police net.
Although it is too early to know if Trinamul's claims about the Burdwan twin murders are true, several police officers said the practice of giving a "clean chit" to the accused could affect their probe.
This evening, Mamata declared in Delhi that the murders of Pradip and Gayen were the fallout of "the CPM's internal feud". Her comments, besides being premature, were at variance with the statements of her party colleagues who had cited "people's anger" as the reason behind the killings earlier in the day.
When reporters in the capital asked her to comment on the "butchering" of Pradip, the chief minister said: "No, he was not butchered. Many cases were pending against him. This is the result of the CPM's internal feud. If you want to know more, ask the state government."
Other Trinamul leaders rushed to distance the party from the Burdwan murders.
Law minister Malay Ghatak, who is also an MLA from Burdwan, was the first off the blocks. "They (the attackers) were mostly residents. The 200-odd armed CPM cadres who went to capture the village (Dewandighi) were surrounded by 5,000 villagers. In the FIR, Trinamul supporters have been named but they were not involved. Police investigations will reveal the truth," he said at Writers'. "The CPM had taken out an armed rally and were uprooting our flags and banners. When our supporters protested, they were assaulted."
Asked how the villagers got the arms, Ghatak said: "They probably snatched the weapons from the cadres."
Hakim offered a similar version and termed the killings a "CPM conspiracy". "This was pre-planned… a CPM conspiracy. When the CPM tried to enter the village, the residents spontaneously resisted the harmads."
He claimed the slain CPM leaders had led the cadres to create trouble in the area. "There had been similar complaints against him (Pradip) in the past. But the villagers are no longer scared and have learnt to resist. Change happened in Bengal only because most people became Trinamul supporters. But no Trinamul supporter had anything to do with today's incident," Hakim added.
Purnendu Bose, the labour minister, said: "Everybody knows what kind of a person Pradip Tah was."
A senior police officer said ministers "issuing a clean chit" to an accused even before the start of investigations could hamper the probe. "Arrests are made on the basis of the FIR. Ministers issuing statements to defend those accused in sensitive cases could influence the probe," an officer said.
He said a "similar thing" had happened in the Park Street rape case, where the chief minister herself had declared that the case was fabricated. "This is simply not done. If senior ministers give a clean chit to the accused, the officers probing the case find it difficult to take action even if there is evidence of guilt. Ministers should be more restrained and should not put unnecessary pressure on the police."
Theatre personality Kaushik Sen, who had been a vocal supporter of Mamata's anti-land acquisition movement, dubbed "dangerous" the trend of delivering judgement even before police investigations begin.
"Such statements can have a deep impact on investigations. We have seen these things happen in the past. Earlier, the CPM used words like janarosh when such incidents took place. It is unfortunate that Trinamul leaders are using the same words 

Political violence batters state

TNN | Feb 23, 2012, 04.05AM IST
KOLKATA: Governments have strong laws to curb extremist violence or those committed by the Left ultras. But what happens when mainstream political parties, swearing by the law, resort to killings? The question has been doing the rounds for quite some time in Bengal's political circles where death toll is no less than the Maoist killings.
CPM puts the death toll at 58, including the killing of the party's Burdwan leaders Pradip Ta and Kamal Gayen. Trinamool Congress claims that 32 party workers died after Mamata Banerjee took over as chief minister. The first comes from Leader of the Opposition Surjyakanta Mishra, while state commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee provided the toll tally on the Trinamool side. Taken together, the political death toll in Bengal since May is 90.
A peek at the West Bengal assembly records bears out that the blood bath has its roots in Bengal's rural backyard - East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Birbhum and Hooghly - since 2001. It became manifest in the 2003 panchayat elections when the Opposition (Trinamool Congress and Congress) could not field candidates in the polls. The trend started changing against the CPM after the 2008 panchayat polls that found its culmination with the change of government in the 2011 assembly elections. But it did not bring an end to the politics of violence, capture and recapture.
Why so? The reason becomes evident when one takes a look at the trouble zones. The fury possibly has its roots embedded in the CPM hegemony during the Left Front rule. The blood bath in Burdwan is no exception. On Tuesday, Left youth leader at Jadavpur Avik Chowdhury was beaten up by Trinamool supporters for shouting slogans against Mamata Banerjee during the CPM rally at the Brigade Parade grounds. Like the CPM leaders, who didn't admit their hegemony and that their hand in violence at Keshpur, Chhoto Angaria and Suchpur while the Left Front was in government, the Trinamool leaders also have been making incoherent statements to wash their hands of the Burdwan bloodbath.
Speaking to reporters, Chatterjee said it was mob fury spurred by villagers' resistance to a CPM armed recapture bid. It also found resonance in state law minister Moloy Ghatak's statements earlier in the day. President of Trinamool Burdwan (rural) zone and party MLA from Purbasthali, Swapan Debnath, however, described it as the fallout of an internal feud within the CPM. The later also figured in Trinamool state president Subrata Bakshi's comments in Midnapore. All Trinamool leaders, however, unequivocally said that Trinamool wasn't involved in the attack.
Mishra squarely put the blame on Mamata Banerjee. "The chief minister has the biggest responsibility as the supreme leader of her party (Trinamool Congress), the home minister and the head of the state. The administration is playing a partisan role. The administration is hand-in-glove with the ruling party and its goons who have unleashed a reign of terror in the state. The entire state is burning, the ruling party is taking the state towards anarchy," he said.
Forward Bloc's Asoke Ghosh and RSP's Manoj Bhattacharya also sharply criticised Trinamool for instigating the attack. WBPCC president Pradip Bhattacharya said: "It is high time that politics of killing is stopped forthwith. BJP president Rahul Sinha blamed "provocative statements" issued by the Trinamool for the outbreak of violence.

Politics News | Updated Feb 23, 2012 at 11:17am IST

West Bengal political killings: Mamata govt in trouble

Kolkata: Two CPI(M) leaders were hacked to death allegedly by Trinamool supporters in West Bengal on Wednesday. The recent spate of political killings in the state has left the Mamata Banerjee government red faced.
Former CPI(M) Burdwan MLA Pradip Tah and district leader Kamal Gayen succumbed to injuries on Wednesday after they were allegedly attacked by Trinamool Congress supporters at a rally.
Injured CPI(M) supporter Rupkumar Gupta said, "We were hoisting party flags in support of the February 28 strike when we were attacked by the Trinamool activists."
While four people have been arrested for the violence, the CPI(M) alleges that 58 party workers have become casualties since the TMC took over. The Trinamool maintained that the deaths were a result of villagers trying to resist the CPI(M)'s bid to recapture lost territory.
Surjya Kanta Mishra, Leader of Opposition, West Bengal Assembly, said, "Ever since the Trinamool-led government assumed charge, the state has been in chaos. The CM's involvement in such incidents is clear."
The renewed spate of political violence ahead of the February 28 general strike provides ominous signals for Bengal. With both sides hardening political positions, breakdown of law and order could just become Mamata Banerjee's biggest challenge in the days ahead.
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According to him, the Trinamul-backed federation is wielding the same clout as the Co-ordination Committee in terms of extracting favours such as special casual leave. "Only 15 employees from Writers' were eligible for the special casual leave as they were delegates. But records suggest that 45 employees took leave and no one asked any question," he added.

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