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Bihar lesson for Bengal liberation

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  • Published 22.05.11

Patna, May 21: Fodder scam buster Upen Biswas, now a minister in Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet in Bengal, had a desire to contest from a seat in Bihar where he had waged a crusade against corruption, laying the foundations for an upheaval in the state’s politics over a decade ago.

“I would have loved to get an address in Patna and contest elections from a Bihar seat had chief minister Nitish Kumar’s party offered me a ticket,” Biswas, the backward classes welfare minister in Bengal, told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview over phone from Calcutta today.

Bihar had pitchforked Biswas to the national limelight when he doggedly pursued the Rs 950-crore fodder scam cases against Lalu Prasad, then the mightiest of chief ministers in India, and other political heavyweights in the mid-nineties. “I was working as a CBI investigator totally cut off from the people and politics then. But it is hard to forget the way the Bihar people stood behind me,” the former top cop said.

Biswas, who, as the then CBI joint director, was in charge of the fodder investigation, recalled one such incident. “My phone rang at 1am. I was initially upset to hear the phone ring at such an odd hour. But as I answered the phone, the caller said that he and hundreds of others had just offered holy Ganga water at the Shiva temple at Deoghar (in united Bihar then) praying for my safety and security.”

“I was simply overwhelmed at the manner in which the people prayed for my safety. They obviously wanted their state to come out of the vice-like grip of corrupt leaders and officials and they wanted me to continue with my investigations,” Biswas said.

Biswas recalled that he and his family had got threat calls during his stint in the state. “The incident goaded me to carry on with my work with more determination,” he said.

The former professor of sociology who specialised in criminology before joining the IPS described the war on the fodder scam and the people’s overwhelming support to it as the agent of social change. “Some sections did not realise at that time that the investigation in the mega scam involving the Bihar rulers was working as the agent of social change. It takes time for social change to be visible on the ground,” he said.

Driving his point home, Biswas said: “Social change takes place slowly. But when it takes place, it is irreversible. See the case of Bengal. Social change began slowly but took the shape of a tornado.”

Asked how he would live as an “uncompromising crusader against corruption” in the “murky world of politics”, Biswas said: “I am a stickler for the task assigned to me. I will simply not tolerate any corrupt official in the department I run. Corrupt officials simply cannot work for the poor.”

“In fact, I made corruption a poll issue in Bagda (the constituency from where he won). At the very outset I asked the corrupt and criminals not to vote for me. You can hear my campaign speech. I clearly said that the corrupt and criminals should never press the button in my favour for the first thing I will do after winning is to weed them out,” he said.

Biswas’s experiment in Bihar had convinced him that 70 per cent of the people in any society were honest. “Seventy per cent of voters in Bagda were sufficient to send me to the portals of Writers’ Buildings (the Bengal secretariat),” Biswas said. “I spent only my last month’s pension in my campaign. The people took care of the rest of the expenses.”

Biswas described Mamata too as a “crusader” who carried out a long struggle to “liberate” Bengal from the 34-year-old rule of the Marxists.

“See, liberating Bihar was a bit less tricky as it was ruled by a set of persons (Lalu Prasad and company) who stood exposed in the eyes of the people. But only a true crusader could have liberated Bengal, which was in the grip of organised and functional anarchy,” the former officer said.