Much must be rotten in a state where criminals are protected by the rulers, and where officials trying to uphold the law are punished. R.K. Pachnanda’s removal as Calcutta’s police commissioner falls into a pattern that is now familiar in West Bengal. The current regime in Writers’ Buildings seems to be uneasy with officials, both civil and police, who think it is their duty to act in accordance with the law. Damayanti Sen, one of Mr Pachnanda’s former colleagues in the Calcutta police, had a taste of Mamata Banerjee’s rule when she was unceremoniously removed from her position for daring to act by the book in the Park Street rape case. Both at Writers’ Buildings and in the districts, upright officials are now routinely penalized — through transfers and other means — for doing what the law and professionalism require them to do. The result is a situation in which the only thing that matters is the chief minister’s wish. Since Ms Banerjee’s wishlist remains unpredictable, changing almost by the week, even an appearance of loyalty to her is no guarantee for officials against public humiliation or punishment.
It is easy to imagine what impact Mr Pachnanda’s removal will have on the morale of his senior colleagues and on the work of the rank and file. But there is a particularly frightening message from Ms Banerjee’s action in the aftermath of the murder of a policeman at Garden Reach allegedly by an activist of her own party. If the chief minister herself presides over the collapse of the police administration, there is nothing that can stop Calcutta from becoming a city of fear. If police and civil officials are to join their political masters in conniving with the subversion of the law, life can become very insecure for ordinary citizens. Perhaps, the only hope lies in more and more officials waking up to the danger and acting a little courageously, as Mr Pachnanda did. True, officials bending over backwards in order to please their political masters is not a new phenomenon in Bengal. The politicization of the bureaucracy had become commonplace during the long reign of the Left Front. But Ms Banerjee seems to be intent on taking it to perverse levels. What has happened during the early months of her government should be enough to sound the alarm bells. Unless the trend is reversed, the fear of anarchy in Bengal will only get worse.