At Christopher Road, it’s a minister from the ruling party. At Barasat, it’s a local committee member of the ruling party. Both, effective roadblocks to the police crackdown on Puja extortion.
Under pressure from “powerful quarters” not to “touch” rogue puja organisers, the cops received a political boost on Sunday evening, with the ruling party laying down the chanda law, at least on paper.
The CPM brass on Sunday warned its members of expulsion from the party if found involved in forcible collection of subscription for Durga puja.
Reacting to the alleged involvement of a local committee member of the party in puja ‘extortion’ at Barasat on Saturday, CPM secretary Anil Biswas said in a statement from Delhi that the incident, if true, was condemnable.
“No party member can be involved in collecting puja subscription forcibly. Anyone found involved in such an act will be expelled from the party,” he stated.
But on the ground, little had changed for the cops. Yubak Sangha of Barasat — banned by the police after its puja committee members thrashed a team of Bangladeshi visitors on Saturday for refusing to pay Rs 2,500 — blocked police entry into the area on Sunday.
A few hours after a police team visited the Yubak Sangha pandal to pin a notice calling for dismantling of the structure, the club drummed up support against cop action from a few dozen other pandals in the area.
So did Paribartan Club, on Christopher Road, perceived to be blessed by a CPM member in the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.
Though the minister was away in Delhi, his minions in Calcutta drummed up enough support for the puja to keep the cops at bay. They built up a lobby, playing to religious sentiment and cajoling organisers of neighbouring pujas to call off their celebrations in protest against the police’s “one-sided action”. The club claimed “victimisation” over “unfounded allegations” of chanda extortion and assault last Thursday.
According to police, a Birsul Hat leather merchant (Eklak Ahmed) was beaten up that day and the cheek of a teenager (Fazaluddin) slashed with a razor after they refused to pay the puja subscription.
Eastern suburban division police officers said they had caught the main accused but “a cabinet member forced us not to take him into custody”.
In the end, officials of Beniapukur police station — “under political pressure” — were reduced to pleading with several puja committees not to “call off their celebrations, as that might create a volatile situation”.
But an officer connected with the handling of the Christopher Road puja said: “This (Paribartan) is a rogue club, with several verbal complaints lodged against it every year. No one dares register a written complaint, as it is backed by a section of hooligans close to a minister. But a club having the backing of a minister should behave more responsibly.”