Calcutta, Jan. 9: Governor M.K. Narayanan today described the events of the past few days in Bengal as “a kind of goondaism” and spoke of “weaknesses” in response to a question on the role of police.
Few words will be more devastating for a state government that has been persistently deriding spiralling violence and its consequences as “drama”.
“I think the last two-three days have been both distressing and disturbing. I think we cannot and should not tolerate this kind of violence taking place,” the governor told reporters in reply to questions at Victoria Memorial this evening.
Asked about the political culture, Narayanan replied: “This has nothing to do with political culture. This is a kind of goondaism.”
Some were quick to draw a parallel with the “cold horror” statement of then governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi on the day 14 people were killed in Nandigram. But Gandhi was sometimes critical of the Left government and he had issued the statement within hours of the Nandigram firing.
Narayanan, known for choosing his words with extreme care and steering clear of statements that may raise questions of constitutional impropriety, assessed the situation and then responded. In the immediate aftermath of the assault on CPM veteran Abdur Rezzak Mollah, the governor had confined himself to saying “we don’t subscribe to any attack on anyone, including politicians”.
On the intervening day, Bengal witnessed a blatant arson attack on the outskirts of the city in Bhangar. A boy was shot at and many were beaten up.
Yet, ministers such as Madan Mitra were openly making claims like “had we wanted, it would have taken just five minutes to wipe out the CPM”. ( )
This evening, the governor made another telling statement. Asked if he was satisfied with the role of the police, Narayanan, with long years of experience in security matters, said: “I think when clearly there is a major law-and-order situation, there are weaknesses around.”
Narayanan took care to express faith in not only Calcutta and Bengal but also in the administration, ensuring that few could accuse him of bias. “I think a city like Calcutta and a state like Bengal cannot accept this. And, I think, action should be taken and will be taken.”
By saying “action will be taken”, the governor has forced the government’s hand without explicitly issuing a directive in public.
So measured was the governor’s statement that Trinamul took the rare step of thinking hard before responding. A senior minister said: “We shall first have to discuss the matter within the party before remarking on it.”
Senior Trinamul leader Saugata Roy said: “The governor has said what he thinks is right. On my part, I would like to say that I think that there should not be any violence or political clashes in Bengal.”
The CPM, often at loggerheads with Raj Bhavan when the party was in power, did not hide its relief. “The governor’s statement gives us hope and we welcome it, even though it is a bit late,” CPM state secretariat member Mohammad Salim said.
Congress leader and central minister Deepa Das Munshi added to the discomfiture of the state government by describing the governor’s statement as “bold”.
Before the governor spoke, other voices were already rising. Poet Sankha Ghosh said this evening: “If you are going to depend on anti-socials to run the state, such terrible incidents will keep taking place. I would ask the government, yet again, to be extremely cautious, immediately.”
Held in high regard and widely respected in the state, Ghosh was one of the strongest voices of criticism against the Left rule since the police firing in Nandigram. He has also been speaking up against the new government over the past year.
This evening, the poet told The Telegraph: “This is not the first time I’m having to say this. On several occasions, in the past few months, I had said that the government’s persistent endorsement of the role played by anti-socials is alarming. By adopting this attitude, the government is sending out all sorts of wrong signals and encouraging those who must not be encouraged. If not checked rightaway, this would lead to disastrous consequences.”
According to Ghosh, “those in command” must deal with the perpetrators of such acts in an “exemplary” manner to discourage recurrences.