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SHOOT-AT-WILL CITY
Bengal faces searing questions from girl

Calcutta, Feb. 12: A Calcutta police officer was shot dead in daylight today over something as routine as a college election, prompting his daughter to ask a question that captured the many ills plaguing the state.

“I saw a man openly holding a gun and leaving after shooting a police officer dead. And I saw those who have the licence to possess arms standing quietly. They could not even take out a gun and show it to that man. He just fled without any resistance. I don’t understand what kind of a system this is,” Tanushree Chowdhury said.

The 20-year-old student was speaking on ABP Ananda hours after her father Tapas Chowdhury, a 56-year-old sub-inspector, was shot in front of Harimohan Ghose College in Garden Reach.

No Calcutta police veteran could recall another instance of an officer being killed on duty in the city since the murder of Vinod Mehta, the IPS officer who was brutalised in the port area in March 1984. Mehta, the then deputy commissioner, and his guard Mokhtar Ali were overpowered and killed by a group at a place that, incidentally, is only a few metres off Paharpur Road where today’s atrocity unfolded.

A Trinamul supporter who was injured in the violence today has been hospitalised. Doctors said Tahir Hussain had a deep wound in his left palm.

Ten persons have been arrested. Two — Sheikh Subhan (the youth in the television footage above) and his uncle Mohammad Ibne — have been booked for the murder of the sub-inspector while the remaining eight have been charged with rioting.

At least eight of the 10 are said to be close to the ruling Trinamul. The police had little option but to make the arrests after the TV footage was aired, although a minister had initially blamed Congress workers alone.

Officer Chowdhury was rushed to CMRI hospital with a bullet lodged in his chest and his white uniform soaked in blood around 12.30pm.

“The bullet entered his chest one inch left of the sternum or breast bone. It apparently hit the diaphragm and heart,” said Rajarshi Raychaudhuri, the emergency medical officer who examined Chowdhury and declared that he was already dead. The bullet was still lodged in the officer’s body when he was brought to the hospital.

The events — and the questions asked by Tanushree —mirror the rot that has worsened in the 29 years since 1984.

The trigger

Today was not even election day at Harimohan college. The candidates were only supposed to collect their nomination papers. But in Bengal, it has become the norm across campuses to nip challengers in the bud. Collection of nomination papers is the best time to ensure that only one party — usually the one holding the political reins — contests the polls.

In keeping with this tradition, Trinamul supporters had landed at the college and taken control of the nomination process. This would have passed unnoticed but Congress supporters — probably because of a tussle over the larger spoils the area offers — confronted the Trinamul ranks. This was the trigger for the clash.

Tanushree’s question: A man openly holding a gun shoots an officer dead and leaves.

The footage above shows how a youth — whom the police later identified as Subhan — carrying a pistol sprinted unchallenged in daylight and opened fire.

No motive has yet emerged for the suspect to target a police officer. The footage showed another man stumbling in front of Subhan, fuelling suspicion if he was the intended target. If this was indeed the case, it raises the possibility that anyone in the vicinity, including bystanders and passersby, could have been hit.

What was more astounding was the ease with which the shooter turned and scampered away. The footage shows a posse of policemen a few feet away from the shooter who stands out because of the blazing red in his jersey.

Tanushree’s question: I saw those who have the licence to possess arms standing quietly.

Hands tied and helpless: that is the status of the police who have been given instructions not to intervene in such clashes.

Officers present at the place told The Telegraph later that strict instructions had been issued by the administration to “show restraint” whatever be the offence. “It is always wiser to wait till there is an order to arrest, especially in case of political violence,” said an officer.

Tanushree’s question: They could not even take out a gun.

The no-gun policy is in line with the government’s eagerness to avoid a repeat of police firing — a law-enforcement option that has become a political hot potato after the Nandigram tragedy.

The incidents of police firing at Loba in Birbhum over an earth-remover and in Tehatta in Nadia over a place of prayer have made the new government all the more jittery. In both cases, police officers have been penalised while the perpetrators of violence have more or less got away lightly.

“There was no question of acting tough, leave alone opening fire, not even in self-defence. If anyone opens fire, he has to offer an explanation before superiors and if the explanation is not found satisfactory, he is penalised,” said an officer.

Firhad Hakim, minister and the president of the college governing body, reached the spot soon after the incident and blamed the police for “unpreparedness and inaction”.

“If the police were well prepared and had taken the required precautionary measures, they would not have lost one life. But now they are taking all the measures,” Hakim said after visiting the college.

Footage clincher

Within minutes of today’s firing, the government started blaming the Opposition and listed specific names. Had the telling footage not been aired, there is little doubt that the police would not have been allowed to arrest those linked to the ruling party, police sources conceded.

State home secretary Basudeb Banerjee said “proper action” against the culprits would be taken without considering their political affiliation.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee observed a minute’s silence to pay homage to the slain officer during a government programme at Nandigram.

The chief minister did not mention Garden Reach, but it appeared that she was blaming the Congress for the incident.

Ganatantra mane police-ke guli kore mere fela noy. Ganatantra mane DM office-ey dhuke hooliganism noy (Democracy does not mean shooting dead a policeman. Democracy does not mean committing hooliganism at the district magistrate’s office),” Mamata said.

Her speech over, Mamata asked singer Nachiketa to perform.