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Cops on a leash cry foul

A bullet fired by a brazen assassin pierced sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury’s chest and a fettered police force felt a stab of pain at being unable to do anything about it.

The drama of lawlessness played out in Garden Reach on Tuesday in the name of a college-election dispute has led the rank and file of the police to question whether they have any power to act in the surcharged political environment of academic institutions.

“We are mourning a colleague killed in the line of duty. But there are questions to be answered. Why was he shot? Why wasn’t he carrying a firearm? Why were the cops armed only with sticks? Why wasn’t there a lathicharge before the violence went out of hand?” a senior officer in Lalbazar demanded.

Sources said 16 policemen drawn from the Special Branch and the reserve force had been deployed in the vicinity of Harimohan Ghose College early on Monday, albeit with the caveat that they should “hold back” until further orders.

“Urban development minister Firhad Hakim is the president of the governing body of the college and the Speaker of the legislative Assembly, Biman Banerjee, is one of its members…. We were given to understand that our role in quelling any trouble was limited,” said an officer at Garden Reach police station.

Several senior officers told Metro on condition of anonymity that the force’s “preparedness” did not match the need for policing in the area, which has a history of violent demonstrations and attacks on the police.

Television footage shows that the police were not only outnumbered but also little more than witnesses to the mayhem on Paharpur Road.

police fettered by politicians lose an officer

A few telling frames on loop across news channels show armed goons charging at the lathi-wielding cops, who appear on the defensive until their colleague is shot. “Had our deployment been stronger, it would at least have been a deterrent to what happened,” an IPS officer said.

According to him, there was a strong case for “proper deployment” after Arijit Sil, the son of councillor Ranajit Sil, was injured in a blast in the area shortly after midnight on Monday.

Detective chief Pallab Kanti Ghosh’s comments suggested that Lalbazar knew there was a strong possibility of violence.

“There is no reason to believe that those who had gathered outside the college were civilians. They were all anti-socials,” Ghosh said on Tuesday evening.

So why was the police deployment not strong enough to quell them?

Nobody in the police headquarters would say it on record but almost everyone holds the political environment responsible for the force’s “feeble appearance”.

“The chief minister doesn’t want the police to fire even in self defence. Harimohan Ghose College has a strong Trinamul connection; there were instructions not to use force. What could we have done?” pleaded a senior officer

This isn’t the first time that the police have allegedly been asked to treat violence in colleges, especially those that have a strong Trinamul Congress presence, with velvet gloves.

“Elections in some city colleges, including Vidyasagar College on Bidhan Sarani, were held under police supervision only in name. We were asked not to touch anybody, especially from the Trinamul’s student wing, irrespective of the provocation. It was the same at Jaipuria College, where the Trinamul-affiliated candidates won uncontested,” an officer recounted.

According to him, the police bandobast outside Harimohan Ghose College should have been 35-40 personnel with an officer of the rank of assistant commissioner leading the contingent and a deputy commissioner being in charge overall.

A colleague summed up the police’s predicament. “We are not handicapped. We are confused.”