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Kerala Thomas, Paul and the ‘right spirit’

Calcutta, July 2: The Trinamul Congress today “accepted” the unconditional apology by its MP, Tapas Paul.

Organisations and individuals usually “accept” awards, honorary titles and high office.

Paul has distinguished himself by threatening to send his boys to Opposition homes to rape families and vowing to personally shoot his rivals.

If such exploits are not sufficient for his political guardians to give an “acceptance speech”, Trinamul has found a gem of a quality that the conspiring media of Bengal has missed till now.

“He has given an unconditional apology and the party has accepted it since the tone and content of the letter was in the right spirit,” Trinamul national spokesperson and MP Derek O’Brien said.

Rarely has “right spirit” received such an endorsement. Unlike the Coca-Cola formula, the recipe for the “right spirit” can be made public, thanks to the master blenders of Bengal.

The “right-spirit” recipe goes something like this: rub shoulders with cultural icons, pick up abominable phrases from the gutter, spice them up liberally with words like “rape”, “maal”, “rongbaaj”, “kete din”, shake well, deep freeze and, while serving, heap blame on the media.

Before O’Brien uncorked the right spirit, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had told a party meeting that what Paul “has said could not be supported. But he has apologised and there is no need for such a hue and cry”.

The statement — and the subsequent serving of the “right spirit” — suggests “hue” and “cry” will be held guilty and Mamata does not want to be seen as taking action against Paul under pressure.

In a face-saving attempt after the Centre has sought a “status report”, the Nadia SP has been asked to collect details and forward them to the state home department so that a reply can be sent to New Delhi. Other than that, the police have been collecting FIRs filed by individuals instead of proceeding on their own against the MP as laid down in law.

The Achilles heel could be lurking in the very letter that has been conferred the “right-spirit” honour.

Paul’s signed letter of apology begins by saying “some remarks made by me in the heat and dust of the election campaign”, although local Trinamul leaders have insisted that he delivered the “rape-and-shoot” speech on June 14.

Now that the letter has achieved the exalted “right-spirit” status, it will be difficult for Paul to say he made a mistake about the date.

But unless Paul does so, someone can challenge his election as the letter claims the MP, who got elected from Krishnagar under which falls the speech-site Choumaha, gave the call to rape and murder “in the heat and dust of the election campaign”.

Section 123 2(a)(1) of the Representation of the People Act says that if a candidate “threatens any candidate or any elector… with injury of any kind, including social ostracism and ex-communication or expulsion from any caste or community,… shall be deemed to interfere with the free exercise of the electoral right of such candidate or elector….”

An Election Commission official today said that since the poll process was over, it did not have any role now. “The power of disqualification lies with the legislature and, partially, with the judiciary,” said the official.

Hashim Abdul Halim, a former Speaker of the Bengal Assembly, said: “Any MP could complain in writing to the Lok Sabha Speaker, who could then initiate a debate on this in the House, to discuss whether Paul should continue as a member. The House has the power to disqualify his membership.”

A PIL has been filed in Calcutta High Court seeking police action against Paul.

The judiciary had earlier demonstrated its power to take action. In September 2009, the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of Kerala politician P.C. Thomas as MP for alleged violation of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act. Subsequently, then President Pratibha Patil disqualified Thomas from contesting elections for three years with effect from May 19, 2010.

Thomas was found guilty of circulating leaflets and calendars with religious overtones and using vehicles to ferry voters to polling booths during the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

The leaflets stated that Thomas had attended the beatification ceremony of Mother Teresa in Rome and that he had kissed the Pope’s palm. The calendars had photographs of candidate Thomas, the then Pope and Mother Teresa.

Over to the courts to decide who committed the bigger crime, Thomas or Trinamul’s Paul?

However, if Paul of Bengal brings out a calendar in the “right spirit”, no prizes for guessing which revered figure will get the pride of place.