It is a chilling image of the state of politics in West Bengal today. An elected member of parliament publicly threatens to set his “boys” to rape women supporters of political opponents in retaliation to any attack on his partymen. He also threatens to shoot opponents dead with his own revolver. Tapas Pal is not the run-of-the mill politician. Once a popular film actor, he has been elected twice to the Lok Sabha as a Trinamul Congress candidate. Worse, once the shocking episode has been exposed, he offers no regret but attempts to justify his threats as typical of election campaign rhetoric. What is perhaps more stunning than Mr Pal’s horrifying words is Mamata Banerjee’s complete silence on the matter. Mr Pal’s threats and Ms Banerjee’s silence are part of a deadly scenario in today’s Bengal. Violent acts, often of a criminal nature, by TMC activists have become almost daily occurrences in the state. Some party leaders face charges in murder and other criminal cases. The most worrying part of the scenario is the chief minister’s cynical denial of anything being wrong with her rule. Her silence over Mr Pal’s threats can only remind the people of her dismissal of a rape in Calcutta as a “staged incident”. Criminalization of politics is not new in Bengal — the Left Front’s long reign helped it strike roots. But the rot seems to have gone deeper during Ms Banerjee’s short reign.
With the chief minister choosing not to heed the warning signals, it is not surprising that the police and the administration seem to have become dysfunctional. The Left Front’s rule was notorious for politicizing the police and the administration. The only change that has come under the new regime is that the TMC’s writ has replaced that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at all levels of the administration. The result is a near-collapse of the rule of law, which has left the people, even those not involved in party politics, feeling insecure and helpless. Mr Pal’s threats offer yet another test for both Ms Banerjee and the administration. It is not enough to ask him to issue an apology, as the party has done. So strong is the case for legal action against him that not taking it will be a brazen dereliction of the State’s duty. Even the Lok Sabha can initiate an impeachment proceeding against its errant member. It would be wrong and dangerous to dismiss his threats as merely a part of gutter politics.