Mamata Banerjee was taking a stroll on the beach in Digha when police commissioner R.K. Pachnanda was fumbling for words to explain why she wasn’t at slain officer Tapas Chowdhury’s house on Wednesday.
“Where is the police minister? Where is Mamata Banerjee? Won’t she come to our house even after someone from her own force has been killed?” demanded sub-inspector Chowdhury’s widow Minati.
“She is not in the city. But she is extremely worried about your family,” mumbled commissioner Pachnanda, in the firing line for the second time in as many days.
Even if the chief minister was “worried” for Chowdhury’s bereaved family, it was difficult to tell 200km from Calcutta what her state of mind was as she walked, smiled and waved at people in Digha.
The chief minister walked 2.5km between Udaypur and New Digha and, according to one of those accompanying her, was “all the while talking about her plans to turn Digha into Goa”.
In their Thakurpukur home, Minati, her 14-year-old son Tamal and college-going daughter Tanushree told the police commissioner to convey to chief minister Mamata that they strongly felt her absence in their moment of grief.
“Can you tell her (the chief minister) to come? Please tell her,” Minati said.
She repeated the sentence five times in the 15 minutes that the police commissioner and some senior colleagues spent in the slain Special Branch sub-inspector’s home.
Outside the two-storey house at Sarada Pally, some among the posse of policemen expressed surprise that Mamata hadn’t yet visited the family of a police officer killed in the line of duty.
“We knew that the chief minister was going to Digha but we expected her to return after an incident like this,” said an officer of the traffic police department.
Sources said a section of the Trinamul rank and file was just as surprised that their leader, usually the first off the blocks, hadn’t yet visited Chowdhury’s family.
“She is the head of the government. A statement from her would have assured the people that she is in control of the situation and her sympathies are with the slain cop’s family,” a senior Trinamul leader said.
Mamata is in Digha for two nights on doctors’ advice. The Telegraph too had highlighted how her taxing schedule was taking its toll. But this long overdue holiday for the busiest person in Bengal couldn’t have been more ill-timed, according to many.
“Is this the time for a vacation? Is she so busy holidaying by the sea that she doesn’t even have the time or courtesy to call up the family and offer her condolences?” questioned a relative.
Leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra did not let go of the opportunity to criticise Mamata.
“More than 24 hours have passed since the incident at Garden Reach. But the chief minister is yet to make a statement in this regard. The chief minister is used to addressing meetings for two to three hours at other times. But she hasn’t even spoken a few words on the police officer’s murder. Please make a statement because the people want to know,” the former Left Front minister said at Rejinagar, in Murshidabad.
“We have watched on TV how a Trinamul borough committee chairman was about to slap a policeman. Why shouldn’t he slap? It is quite natural because his leader has already threatened to whip policemen,” Mishra let fly, raking up Mamata’s outburst outside the Calcutta Book Fair venue when she was kept waiting for her car.
The Congress compared Mamata to Nero.
“Nero played the fiddle as Rome burnt. Mamata Banerjee is holidaying in Digha when Calcutta is reeling under the shock of a police officer’s murder,” MP Deepa Das Munshi said.
Away from it all, all that the chief minister talked about was how places like Junput, Shankarpur and Udaypur could be turned into tourist hotspots, a member of her entourage said.
Mamata kept her distance from the crowd as she walked with Trinamul leaders Mukul Roy, Sisir Adhikary and Subhendu Adhikary by her side.
The seaside shopkeepers blew conch shells to greet her and she waved at them.
The only public expression of grief from the chief minister at the police officer’s murder was the minute’s silence at the start of a government event at Nandigram on Tuesday. On the same dais, moments later, Mamata had asked singer Nachiketa to perform and hummed along as he sang.
In the chief minister’s absence, the police commissioner tried his hand at damage control, meeting the bereaved family for the third time in 24 hours. “The entire state is by your side… She (Mamata) will come,” he told Minati.
She did not look convinced, just as daughter Tanushree wasn’t when he had told her on Tuesday that the police would catch her father’s killer soon.
The cops did keep their commissioner’s promise but...
“The chief minister has been very anxious. She has been in touch with us constantly, seeking updates… She has instructed us to do everything necessary and stand by the family,” urban development minister Firhad Hakim said at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday evening.
Mamata, who is staying at Saikatabas in Digha, is scheduled to leave the seaside town for Calcutta on Thursday afternoon.