Calcutta, Oct. 5: Mamata Banerjee today said “Bengal will burn” if the state government slaps the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on writers and artistes like Mahasweta Devi and Aparna Sen for sympathising with the tribal agitation in Lalgarh.
“Banglay aagun jalbey jodi biddajaner keshagra sparsa kara hoy. Banger manush eshob bardasta karbena. (Bengal will burn if even the tip of a hair strand of any intellectual is touched. The people of Bengal will not tolerate this),” the Trinamul Congress chief told STAR-Ananda this afternoon.
Reacting to Mamata’s statement, chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said: “I have heard what the honourable railway minister said. We have nothing against intellectuals. But those who had helped Maoist groups are equally guilty and liable to be punished under the UAPA. Whether a person is less known or well known is not the consideration. Neither you nor me is above the law.”
Left partner Forward Bloc slammed Mamata for the statement. Bloc veteran Asoke Ghosh said her threat that Bengal would burn was an “unconstitutional” statement.
Mamata’s words were a reaction to Chakrabarti’s warning two days ago when he said: “Those who are helping any banned outfit are making themselves liable for punishment under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.”
Classifying writers Mahasweta Devi and Joy Goswami, director Aparna Sen, and actors Shaonli Mitra and Kaushik Sen as “intellectuals”, Mamata said they had nothing to do with Maoists or Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities.
“They helped the tribal movement that was started in Lalgarh, Belpahari and Garbeta because the state government deprived the adivasi people. There was nothing wrong in stand by the movement (in Lalgarh),” she said.
“I warn the government not to play with fire by linking the tribal movement to the Maoists. The Bengal government has neither banned the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, nor the Maoists. Then what is the harm if somebody helps such a committee step up a movement against the deprivation of tribals?” she asked.
“We are keeping a watch on the situation. The people of Bengal will protest if any attempt is made to harass intellectuals by linking them with the Maoists.”
Reacting to Mamata’s statement, Asoke Ghosh said: “She should step down as a central minister before making such unconstitutional statements.”
The Bloc leadership spoke in two voices on the possibility of questioning artistes sympathising with the Maoists. Ghosh didn’t find anything wrong with it, but Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas was critical of the move.
“The BJP government in Chhattisgarh jailed Dr Vinayak Sen as a Maoist sympathiser. Now we are talking of grilling Mahasweta Devi.... But she has supported tribal causes not only in Lalgarh but across the country. She knows the reality about development in tribal areas,” Biswas said.
The government said in Calcutta on Monday that Chhatradhar Mahato would be charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting with chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti, home secretary Ardhendu Sen and director-general of police Bhupinder Singh before arriving at the decision. “After interrogating Mahato and on the basis of evidence collected regarding his involvement in various activities in Lalgarh and its adjoining areas, the government has decided to book him under the UAPA,” Sen said.
Mahato refused to identify any youth who were shown in Maoist training video clips.