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Mamata hears blast, at last Bomb house cops set to be made fall guys

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By PRANESH SARKAR, PRONAB MONDAL AND ARNAB GANGULY
  • Published 18.10.14
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Oct. 17: Left defenceless by the discovery of a cache of bombs that Bengal police had overlooked, chief minister Mamata Banerjee today said “terrorists are terrorists” and declared that “we do not have any problems with the NIA” which is probing the Burdwan blast.

Hours before the chief minister broke her silence on the blast, the first hint of a damage-control bid came when it emerged that the state government was thinking of acting against the police team that missed the 39 bombs found by central agencies yesterday.

“Terrorists are terrorists. They do not belong to any religion. Ours is a desh bhakt (patriotic) party. We do not have any problems with the NIA (National Investigation Agency),” Mamata told a news conference at the Trinamul Congress headquarters.

Rarely before has Mamata felt the need to reaffirm in public her party’s patriotism.

But rarely before has the chief minister come under pressure from multiple flanks as now. The Burdwan blast case is snowballing, the BJP is pummelling her with one uncomfortable question after the other and matters have come to such a head that cautionary voices are rising in Bangladesh — a possible target of the bombs being made on Bengal’s soil.

A mellow Mamata today said “Bangladesh is our brother” amid reports that Dhaka was extremely concerned about alleged links between a politician in Bengal and extremist elements.

The chief minister insisted that she had never opposed a probe by the NIA and that the media had construed her views on the Centre-state relationship as a comment on the central agency.

“We want the Centre to consult us. Consult na kore insult korbe eta hoy na (Not consulting means insulting us, this cannot happen). They have to work with the local administration. Our officers did a very good job. We will give full cooperation to the NIA,” Mamata said.

The offer of cooperation is a dramatic departure from what happened in Burdwan in the immediate aftermath of the blast on October 2. On one pretext or the other, central officers were allegedly not allowed access to the site and seized bombs were detonated in haste.

A day after the Centre took the rare step of announcing on its own an NIA probe into the Burdwan blast, Mamata had posted on Facebook a statement that dwelt on Centre-state relations.

No direct reference was made to the NIA but the timing was striking. “Nowadays, the Central Government tends to frequently and unnecessarily interfere in state matters…” the chief minister had posted.

A senior minister said this evening: “It is obvious that she realises the gravity of the situation. There is not much that she can say in her defence. So, she attempted to give her side of the story without blaming others.”

Not that she did not blame anyone. The chief minister said central agencies had failed to police the border properly, suggesting that she cannot be held responsible for terror modules sneaking into Bengal.

State BJP president Rahul Sinha said tonight: “She broke her silence by saying that she had no problem with the NIA probe. But why was she silent so long? She is trying to cover up the mishandling of the Burdwan blast.”

Police rot

Earlier, a senior Bengal police officer told The Telegraph that departmental proceedings would be initiated against the team that had searched Rezaul Karim’s house in Burdwan and returned empty-handed on October 8. In the same house, the NIA and the NSG had yesterday found 39 home-made bombs.

The move to punish the officers is being seen as an attempt to minimise the embarrassment of the state administration.

“It is undoubtedly an embarrassment when the ruling establishment was claiming that the state police were good enough to carry out the investigation. Departmental proceedings will be initiated against those who had carried out the search on October 8. The process has started today,” the officer said.

Four CID personnel, led by an inspector, and a team from Burdwan police, led by a DSP, had searched the house after it was revealed that one of the prime accused in the October 2 blast had been staying there.

“All those policemen who had conducted the search in the house are responsible because it was their duty to scan the house properly. The gravity of the incident was clear by then,” the senior officer said.

Departmental proceedings usually start with a showcause notice. If the reply is unsatisfactory, suspension or compulsory waiting is activated and a detailed investigation starts.

But some police officers equated the penal proceedings with treatment of the symptom instead of the disease. They said that other than the well-known problem of lack of professional expertise in searching for explosives, the state force was a victim of the rot that had set in long ago.

“The ruling parties in Bengal always tried to use the police force as a weapon against rivals. The party in power has been interfering in matters like recruitment and transfer of officials, which over the years has weakened the force,” said an officer.

The rot struck deep roots during the tenure of former chief minister Jyoti Basu, particularly after the formation of the third Left Front government in 1987, when his then confidential assistant Joykrishna Ghosh used to run the police show.

“Postings and transfers below the rank of superintendent of police and deputy commissioner of police were done by Ghosh. Yardsticks such as efficiency and professionalism were thrown out of the window and loyalty became the sole factor,” said a retired IPS officer.

The system received a fresh lease of life when Trinamul came to power, with Mukul Roy handling police affairs. Compounding the problem was the chief minister’s tendency to interact directly with officers on the ground, which rendered the chain of command redundant.

The upshot: the morale of the police force has hit an all-time low, according to several officers.

Worse, many officers feel that the best course of action is to “let sleeping dogs lie” — a policy that draws the least attention to them. Even if some officers want to act, they fear that vote-bank politics will ensure that they will be asked to go slow or look the other way.

The worst example of working with blinkers on was seen at the house with the bombs on Burdwan’s Badshahi Road.