Calcutta, Feb. 13: An assessment that seething anger may snowball into an uprising in the force prompted the Calcutta police top brass to bypass a directive from a senior politician to “go slow on arrests” over the murder of sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury, suggest accounts by several officers.
In an operation that lasted around two-and-a-half hours, the anti-rowdy section of Calcutta police and the local police station rounded up several persons from parts of Garden Reach, Metiabruz and Rajabagan. Among those picked up, at least six were associated with Trinamul leaders.
By 5.05pm on Tuesday, 12 arrests were made — in sharp contrast with the helplessness of the force till a few hours ago. Footage beamed on ABP Ananda had shown unarmed men in uniform standing by as an assailant shot one of their officers and ran away with impunity.
An officer recounted how the tide turned.
“Sir, we have to act now or the morale of the police will collapse. A sub-inspector has been killed on duty and there can be no further excuse for us,” the officer quoted a senior colleague as telling police commissioner R.K. Pachnanda on Tuesday.
The officer who was painting a grim picture was not exaggerating. By then, resentment had spread through the ranks. Several officers communicated to Lalbazar, the police headquarters, that prompt action alone could prevent matters from spinning out of control.
Sources in the police said a section of the personnel at the Alipore Bodyguard Lines delayed reporting for duty on Wednesday, saying they would not join duty without arms.
The top brass were initially in a bind as Firhad Hakim, the urban development minister, had named Mohammad Mukhtar, a local Congress functionary, as the assailant. Going by the precedent, the next step would have been picking up the named suspect and initiating proceedings.
But an unexpected element was injected soon after Hakim made his claim. Television channels started beaming footage showing the face of the assailant.
The shooter in the footage was Abdus Subhan, initially identified as Sheikh Subhan. Subhan and his uncle Mohammad Ibne Saud are associates of local Trinamul leader Md Iqbal, alias Munna.
When it became clear both were involved, the senior political leader instructed the police brass “to go slow on the arrests” and handle the matter “tactfully”. This was the reason why the force did not get cracking till 2.30pm, though the shot was fired at 11.40am.
The sources said that over two hours went into assessing the situation and consulting political bosses since the message — “SI Tapas Chowdhury shot at on duty at Garden Reach” — was relayed through the internal telephone network of Lalbazar.
The sources said chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was in Nandigram yesterday, was briefed by Hakim. The minister had told her Congress activist Mukhtar was responsible for the murder. “The chief minister apparently gave the go-ahead to act as she was under the impression that Congress activists were behind the attack,” said a home department source.
Sources at Writers’ said the police commissioner phoned home secretary Basudeb Banerjee to inform him of the developments in Garden Reach and followed it with a call to chief secretary Sanjay Mitra.
But the senior political leader who had initially asked the police to go slow tried till the last to deter the force, the sources said.
“He called an IPS officer of the rank of deputy commissioner and instructed him to draw up the case in such a way that none of the Trinamul supporters and leaders is charged,” an officer said.
But by then, the reason for the delay in making arrests had become a talking point in the force. “There was so much anger in the force because everyone could see on television how one of their colleagues was gunned down. It was not the time to take orders from political bosses and that was conveyed to Writers’,” said a senior IPS officer, recounting last afternoon’s conversation in Lalbazar.
The time at which the commissioner, who was confronted by the slain officer’s daughter, gave the go-ahead could not be independently verified.
A joint team from the anti-rowdy section of the detective department and Garden Reach police station swung into action a little after 2.30pm. The team was led by Baidyanath Saha, an assistant commissioner of police.
“It took us 45 minutes to get Ibne and Subhan.Ö We had information that the two were going to meet near the junction of Garden Reach Road and Battikal Road. The moment they did, the two were picked up,” said an officer.
Inspector Milan Dam of the RAF and the additional officer-in-charge of Garden Reach police station were asked to draw up two separate cases. A separate team from the detective department was asked to reach the spot and take up the investigation.