“Party first” is a dangerous doctrine that mocks the rule of law. But Mr Anil Biswas, the secretary of the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has once again shown that he firmly believes in the doctrine. His attempt to defend party activists allegedly involved in a rape in Cooch Behar is not just irresponsible; the manner in which he has done so makes it particularly revolting. Mr Biswas did not think it necessary to wait for the police investigation before rising to his party colleagues’ defence. Worse still, he rushed to paint the alleged rape victim in black, casting aspersions on her “morals”. Less than a year ago, the Supreme Court decreed that questions could not be raised in a rape case about the victim’s character. In other words, the court wanted to ensure that such questions were not allowed to make the crime look less heinous and the accused less culpable. But the CPI(M) seems to believe that party interests must prevail over matters of crime and punishment. Some years ago, a senior leader of the women’s wing of the party had done precisely this — she too questioned some rape victims’ “morals” in trying to deflect criticism away from the Marxist state government. No wonder that even some partners of the ruling Left Front have expressed shock at the CPI(M) leader’s reaction to the Cooch Behar incident.
Mr Biswas’s remarks are fraught with other dangers as well. Coming from the chief of the biggest party of the state’s ruling alliance, these remarks can interfere with the police investigation. There are reasons to believe that the delay in the arrest of the main accused in the Cooch Behar case was because of political pressure. That the accused finally surrendered in a local court on “instructions” from the party was proof of such intervention. It also shows yet again that for the faithful the party is often above the law. It would be dangerous if these faithfuls interpret Mr Biswas’s stand as further support for their defiance of law. The CPI(M) secretary’s comments can also prejudice the functioning of the state women’s commission. Since its members are chosen by the state government, they may be cautious not to hurt the ruling party’s image or interests while investigating cases of atrocities on women. The commission’s work on another sexual attack on women in Dhantala in Nadia district, in which too some CPI(M) workers were allegedly involved, had evoked exactly the same criticism. It is crucial, therefore, that the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, steps in to reassure the people of the government’s commitment to the rule of law. Mr Biswas may be his leading comrade, but Mr Bhattacharjee cannot afford to share his partisan and irresponsible approach to the administration of law.