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Buddha’s war class
- Before panel, former CM defends July 21 firing

Calcutta, Feb. 26: Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee neither apologised nor admitted to any mistake by police when he deposed today before a commission set up by the Mamata Banerjee government to probe the killing of 13 persons in Calcutta on July 21, 1993.

Instead, Bhattacharjee took a class in World War II history, drawing parallels between the Mamata-led Congress movement 21 years ago and the Adolf Hitler-led Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland.

Defending the Jyoti Basu government’s administrative action on that day, Bhattacharjee — the information and cultural affairs minister then — likened it to the invasion of Berlin by the Allied forces in 1945.

“Not all movements are democratic, nor all incidents of police firing unjust. On September 1, 1939, Nazi forces invaded Danzig. In April 1945, the Allied forces invaded Berlin. One was unjust, the other just. They cannot be judged on the same parameters,” Bhattacharjee said in response to Justice Sushanta Chatterjee’s question on whether such police action against a democratic movement was justified.

This is the first time a former chief minister appeared before a judicial commission in Bengal.

Having caused his party embarrassment on a number of occasions by admitting mistakes, Bhattacharjee today rubbished Trinamul’s claims that the police had deliberately fired at the protesters.

Bhattacharjee — accompanied by CPM leader Rabin Deb and advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya — looked calm and poised. Like all other witnesses in the case, Bhattacharjee sat on a chair in the dock during the hearing.

“He came prepared for the questions…. Besides, he strongly believes that the police did not make any mistake,” a CPM source said.

Although several CPM leaders had alleged that Mamata had set up the commission to embarrass CPM leaders, especially Bhattacharjee, Chatterjee heaped praise on the CPM politburo member in his introductory speech.

“You are Bengal’s ideal man. You are known as an honest, cultured and freethinker person. People want to listen to you…. Personally, I do not have any question on your honesty and transparency. What I ask you is as a creature of law,” said the former judge, handpicked by Mamata to head the commission.

Asked if he thought a judicial probe into the firing was necessary, Bhattacharjee said: “Then I had said that there was no need for a judicial commission on this and I say so now, too.”

When Chatterjee mentioned the Trinamul government’s allegation that reports on the incident were missing, Bhattacharjee said it was the commission’s prerogative to pressure the administration to find them.

“You should exert pressure on the government to come forward with these documents. The reports did exist, at Writers’ Buildings and in Lalbazar. On the basis of such reports, I can say that the police were forced to open fire at what was essentially a disruptive movement,” he said.

“Every death is unfortunate…. But every preventive action attempted by the police had failed by then in the face of the movement. There was large-scale violence and around 70 policemen were injured,” he added.

Bhattacharjee said he had seen the preliminary report submitted on July 22, 1993, but he did not remember seeing the statutory inquiry report, which is usually submitted after a few months of any police firing.

When Chatterjee was later asked by the media whether Mamata could be summoned by the commission, he said: “I do not see the need.”

Calcutta High Court today told retired IPS officers Dinesh Vajpai, R.K. Juhuri and Nawal Kishore Singh that they must depose before the Justice Chatterjee commission.

HISTORY LESSON

Bhattacharjee outside the commission office. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

Justice Sushanta Chatterjee: Can a police firing on a democratic movement be justified?

Bhattacharjee: Not all movements are democratic, nor all incidents of police firing unjust.

On September 1, 1939, Nazi forces invaded Danzig. In April 1945, the Allied forces invaded Berlin. One was unjust, the other just. They cannot be judged on the same parameters

Unjust: Invasion of Poland

What happened: Nazi Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II

July 21 parallel according to Bhattacharjee: The police administration was under attack. Police personnel were being provoked. The movement was not democratic but disruptive. The attempt was to capture Writers’ Buildings

Just: Fall of Berlin

What happened: On April 30, 1945, with the Red Army less than 500m from the Reich Chancellory, Adolf Hitler was told by his generals that Berlin would have to surrender within a day. At 3.30pm, Hitler committed suicide in a bunker. Berlin surrendered on May 2

July 21 parallel according to Bhattacharjee: The police were forced to open fire. Every preventive action attempted by the police had failed by then

History lessons Bhattacharjee skipped or what he did not classify as just or unjust

Prague Spring: On August 21, 1968, the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia in order to halt Alexander Dubcek’s political liberalisation movement, popularly known as the Prague Spring, killing 108 people

Tiananmen Square: On June 4, 1989, student-led demonstrations in Beijing were crushed. Over 3 lakh troops with assault rifles and tanks attacked unarmed civilians trying to block the military’s advance towards Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.
Unofficial estimates suggest several thousand civilians were killed

What had happened on July 21, 1993

Youth Congress activists led by Mamata Banerjee, then president of the wing, assembled at five places in Calcutta and marched towards Writers’ Buildings.

Prohibitory orders were clamped and barricades set up at safe distances from the state secretariat. The marchers tried to break barricades and police cordons. Initially, the police lobbed teargas shells. When the agitation reached a high pitch, the police resorted to firing, resulting in the deaths of 13 persons. Since then, Mamata has been
observing Shahid Divas (Martyrs’ Day) on July 21 every year.