Calcutta, Dec. 11: Bengal’s decorous tradition was knocked out cold today when a scuffle over chit funds spun out of control in the Assembly and elected representatives pounced upon each other in “a street fight” in the most privileged place in the state.
If the intention was to beat the daily dose of bad news, they did so with the finesse of a sledgehammer, beating the daylights out of all other news.
At least two women MLAs were locked in a fistfight, straining to claw out each other’s hair, stomping on the chest of a fallen adversary and banging the head of one against an august bench. Not that their male colleagues acquitted themselves any better: one minister was seen beating a fallen MLA while two or three others formed a ring around him to cover up his exploit.
The violence went a step further than the vandalism of 2006 when Trinamul MLAs, then in the Opposition, ran riot inside the Assembly after Mamata Banerjee was stopped from going to Singur. If pieces of furniture bore the brunt then, more fragile yet durable public figures were at the receiving end today.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee was at Writers’ Buildings when her ministers and MLAs were battling it out in the Assembly. Till late tonight, she has refrained from making any comment in public.
After the day’s bout, both the Congress, which was a silent spectator, and the CPM called on governor M.K. Narayanan to seek his intervention.
At the root of the brawl were chit funds, one of the few “enterprises” that have flourished under the new government. In the morning, Speaker Biman Banerjee did not allow an adjournment motion brought by leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra against chit funds in Bengal.
Mishra was allowed only to read an edited version of the motion that he had submitted to the Speaker. The permitted version spoke of how chit funds were “mushrooming”, “flouting norms” and “deceiving” thousands in Bengal.
The edited-out portions had alleged the funds were “feeling encouraged by lack of stern steps from the government” and it is the state administration’s responsibility to take action against the illegal activities, according to the office of the leader of Opposition.
Around 50 Left MLAs, mostly from the CPM, rushed to the Speaker’s chair, demanding the discussion be allowed. The MLAs were also demanding a statement from the government on the status of dissident Trinamul minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya.
Within minutes, at least 30 MLAs of the ruling party rushed towards the Speaker and a commotion followed. In the melee, three CPM legislators — Susanta Besra, Nazmul Haque and Amjad Hossain — grabbed the microphone and a lamp from the Speaker’s desk and tried to hurl it to the floor but were stopped by Assembly staff. A recess was declared.
When the House resumed after an hour, the Speaker said the three MLAs would be suspended. The announcement triggered a free-for-all, marked by an exchange of blows between Trinamul MLA Mahamuda Begum and CPM’s Deblina Hembram.
Once a semblance of normality returned, Mishra demanded action against “the perpetrators from the treasury benches” (the government side). The Speaker said the three suspended MLAs should move out “before anything else”.
The Left MLAs walked out, tearing and tossing Assembly papers. The Congress MLAs had also walked out earlier.
After meeting the governor, CPM’s Mishra said: “The key lies with the chief minister. Without her knowledge, this couldn’t have happened. Inside the Assembly if there is no protection, what will happen outside?”
Minister Partha Chatterjee denied the charges and referred to the numerical superiority of Trinamul. “If we hadn’t shown restraint, going by our strength and their strength inside the House, the picture would have been different,” he said.
Others urged accommodation. “The ruling party should be more accommodative of the Opposition because the House belongs to the Opposition. Those at the helm must listen to those in the Opposition,” former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said.
Congress leader Manas Bhunia termed the battle a “street fight”. “MLA versus MLA and minister versus MLA. This has never happened in the legislative history of Bengal. The ruling party has to be more tolerant,” he said.