Chief minister Mamata Banerjee went to slain police sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury’s house on Thursday armed with promises in cash, governor M.K. Narayanan went there carrying the compassion of a former police officer.
“Why are you speaking about unnecessary things?” Mamata snapped at a relative of Chowdhury when he requested her to ensure that the Special Branch officer’s killers were punished.
Chowdhury’s widow Minati had made a similar plea before the governor around an hour and a half earlier. “Sir, please make sure the culprits are punished. That is my only plea to you.”
He paused for a while before saying: “I will talk to the chief minister today.”
Narayanan kept his promise, seeking a report from the state government on the incident at Garden Reach last Tuesday in which a young man with a gun fatally shot Chowdhury in the chest from point-blank range.
If governor Narayanan saluted sub-inspector Chowdhury’s garlanded picture before giving his teenaged son a hug, chief minister Mamata seemed more eager to speak than hear the slain officer’s family.
Mamata said she knew Chowdhury “well” and had gleaned all the additional information she needed about him “from the files”. A relative who was in the room said the chief minister’s businesslike manner pre-empted anything the officer’s family might have wanted to say or ask.
“We could not ask but the question did cross our minds. If she knew him so well, why didn’t she come earlier or at least send a message to his immediate family?” he demanded.
Mamata stepped out and waved the files she was carrying at the group of reporters waiting for her.
“I have cleared the papers for his widow to get his salary till the day he was to retire. She won’t have to attend office… Salary, increment, promotions, everything will be provided… This file has details of a job for his daughter… Meye-r appointment korey dilam (I have finalised his daughter’s appointment),” she declared.
Then came the quantum of compensation.
“I am providing Rs 15 lakh as accident benefit. On behalf of the government, we are giving Rs 5 lakh to the family. For his ailing mother, I am providing Rs 5 lakh from the chief minister’s relief fund…. Joto ta parlam kore dilam (I did as much as I could),” Mamata said.
She wouldn’t take any questions on why action against accused Mohammad Iqbal, the borough 15 chairman of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, had been delayed.
“I don’t know. Ask the CPM. Don’t prepare the plan…. I have not come here to give answers,” the chief minister said.
“The law will take its own course. My one line is enough… Some more people are involved, why their names are not included in the FIR is being probed.”
Television footage may have helped the police identify and arrest sub-inspector Chowdhury’s alleged killer, but the chief minister sniffed a conspiracy behind it.
Several police officers said they felt the chief minister was trying to make everything look like a favour to their slain colleague’s family. “The people should know that Chowdhury’s family is being given what he deserves and nothing more. She (Mamata) has not done anything special. Everything that she has offered the family is public money,” a Lalbazar veteran said.
Every member of the city police and many from the districts have already pledged a day’s salary to a fund for Chowdhury’s family.
“We will raise nearly Rs 1 crore from our own pockets. That won’t be public money. Besides, we are giving Rs 2,500 a month for the education of Chowdhury’s son,” an officer said.
Governor Narayanan’s visit showed that empathy is as much a salve as the money the family will need. The time he spent with Chowdhury’s family may have been brief but it was enough to convince everyone that he cared.
When 14-year-old Tamal pleaded “Sir, please give me my father back”, the governor stood up to embrace him. “Don’t cry. You should feel proud of him and his deeds. We all are very proud of him,” he told the boy.
For the demoralised police force, the former national security adviser introducing himself as “a police officer” coming to meet the family was just the boost they needed.
Unlike Mamata who brushed aside any question about political involvement in Tuesday’s incident, governor Narayanan was candidly critical of state urban development minister Firhad Hakim allegedly trying to shield accused Iqbal.
The FIR in the Garden Reach case accuses Iqbal of inciting the mob frenzy that led to sub-inspector Chowdhury being shot.
“He has no business doing it,” the governor said of “Mr Hakim’s” alleged attempt to shield an accused named in the FIR.
Sub-inspector Chowdhury’s 20-year-old daughter Tanushree requested the governor to take steps to prevent campus violence in Bengal. “I don’t want any other girl to lose her father like I did,” she said.
The governor nodded in acknowledgement. “I know the situation in the state and I condemn violence in student elections…. I will speak to the CM regarding this,” Narayanan promised Tanushree.
While replying to a question on law and order in Bengal later, he told reporters: “The government should be more proactive and careful… I regularly follow it (the situation) and condemn student violence.”