Calcutta, July 1: A “humble” Tapas Paul has apologised “unreservedly” and Trinamul leader Partha Chatterjee has said Mamata Banerjee is “gabhir bhabe marmahata (deeply hurt)”.
Soon after, Mamata Banerjee wondered aloud: “What will I do, kill him?”
The chief minister does not have to go to such extreme — not to mention patently unlawful — lengths.
There is something called the Indian Penal Code, which the police force that report to Mamata, who is also the state home minister, is expected to enforce.
In short, the chief minister just needs to let the police act, not kill.
The chief minister herself today said that what Paul did — threaten to unleash his boys to rape Opposition families and vow to personally shoot rivals if they attacked his party supporters — was “not a mistake but a big blunder”.
Yet, Bengal police refused to act till late this evening.
Nadia superintendent of police Sabyasachi Raman Mishra, before taking over his new assignment in the CID, had said the police could not take any action because of the lack of any specific complaint.
But lawyers pointed out that the police could have used two sections of the law — Section 23 of the Police Act and Section 115 of the IPC — to start proceedings against Paul on their own.
Section 23 of the Police Act says “it shall be the duty of every police officer promptly toÖ collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace; to prevent the commission of offences and public nuisances”.
Senior Calcutta High Court lawyer Arunava Ghosh explained: “Under this section, no formal complaint against any person is required for the police to act. It depends entirely on the apprehension of the police that any speech or conduct on the part of an individual could affect public peace. In this case, there is clearly an apprehension that what Paul said could affect public peace.”
Ghosh added: “The section also asks the police to ‘collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace’. This means that the police should have collected a copy of the CD recording of Paul’s speech and then acted on it since it has the potential to affect public peace.”
Section 115 of the IPC strikes at the root of another police excuse — that no offence has been committed because of Paul’s speech.
The section says: “Abetment of offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life — if offence is not committed”.
Calcutta High Court lawyer Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee explained why this section is relevant.
“Like Section 23 of the Police Act, under Section 115 of the IPC the police can act without a formal complaint. What Paul said is an abetment to commit a crime that is punishable with death or imprisonment for life. ‘If offence is not committed’ in this case means that no one acted on Paul’s abetment. So, the police could easily have acted if it wanted to. It appears that they were unwilling to do so.”
Agreed veteran lawyer Gitanath Ganguly: “Section 23 of the Police Act and Section 115 of the IPC would have been most appropriate to start a case against the MP but unfortunately they decided to wait for a complaint. The police may be saying that no one had acted on Paul’s exhortation. But you don’t have to always wait for commission of the offence.”
Asked about the lawyers’ near-unanimous opinion, Anuj Sharma, the inspector-general of police responsible for law and order in Bengal, told The Telegraph: “All that I will say is that I have nothing to comment about this particular case at this juncture.”
Nadia’s new superintendent of police Arnab Ghosh said: “I’m in a meeting and cannot comment now.”
Another senior police officer agreed to speak but on condition of anonymity. “Why would I want to lose my job?” the senior IPS officer asked. “Name me one officer who would arrest Tapas Paul for his provocative speech. In such cases, it will be difficult to arrest a ruling party MP even when a formal complaint is filed.”
But the chief minister is banking on the “maturity” of Paul to reform himself.
“We have sought an explanation from him. He is a mature man. He has been cautioned,” Mamata said in Raidighi in South 24-Parganas today.
Arriving for an administrative meeting, the chief minister had declined to speak on Paul’s speech, saying Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy would do so.
However, after the meeting ended, and by then Trinamul had made public Paul’s letter of apology and an impression was gaining ground that the party was keen to close the chapter, Mamata spoke on the subject.
Asked what legal steps are being contemplated against Paul, Mamata said: “What will I do, kill him? We have cautioned him, sought a clarification from him. CPM leaders have said so many things against me. You (the media) have not protested. My party’s spokesperson has condemned it, sought an explanation and an unconditional apology. The party will then decide.”
Asked again whether any steps are being contemplated against Paul, Mamata said: “This incident took place one month ago. Why are you asking now? Then I have to resurrect cases of Sushanta Ghosh (the CPM leader accused in a murder case), Anil Basu (a CPM leader who had made indecent remarks against Mamata before the Assembly elections).”
The deadline for Paul’s explanation expires tomorrow, when Mamata is scheduled to address party MPs, ministers, district presidents and frontal organisational heads at Trinamul Bhavan.
Squeezing an apology out of Paul, a relative lightweight with no organisational clout, was easy. But any stronger action will bring under glare the chief minister’s reluctance to act against Anubrata Mondal and Manirul Islam, two influential Trinamul leaders whose names figure in separate FIRs related to murders.