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Didi’s ‘shaheed’ remark as problematic as ‘gherao’

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To declare victims of firing as 'martyr' before enquiry will only give appeasement ammunition to BJP

One may or may not agree with the Bengal Tigress sobriquet but nobody disagrees that Mamata Bannerjee is a street fighter. So, true to her character Didi landed in Sitalkuchi as soon as the EC's restriction period expired on Wednesday. She met the grieving families of the victims who died in a firing incident by CISF personnel on voting day there. She expressed her sympathies and promised to 'take care' of all their needs, if not now, certainly post elections. She said the guilty would be punished. It was left unspoken what she meant by 'guilty' but the implication that she meant the jawans was almost clear. But she did not stop at the assurance of justice. She went on to announce that a 'Shaheed' monument would be built in the memory of the dead.

Didi’s ‘shaheed’ remark as problematic as ‘gherao’

Just to refresh things, the state govt had announced an inquiry into the incident soon after the news came in. There is also a PIL pending in High Court on the same demand.

The Sitalkuchi firing incidents in which four men died and one person was killed in violence at a different spot earlier has overshadowed all other violent incidents in these elections which are still less than half way through. To put it briefly, CISF reported that there as a scuffle when they prevented people from disrupting the polls at a booth. In the commotion they were surrounded and some people tried to snatch away their rifles. They were compelled to fire in self defence which led to the deaths of the four men. Another young man killed earlier reportedly died of injuries as miscreants were preventing some people from casting their votes. All these form part of the detailed inquiry into the happenings in Sitalkuchi on that fateful day the report of which is awaited.

The Trinamool Congress was quick to slam the security forces for the firing even as a section of media questioned the forces for disproportionate action. Whether the situation was grave enough to resort to firing will be established through the investigation. Unlike many other countries, India has a track record of not shying away from action even against our uniformed personnel if found guilty of dereliction of duty or excessive force. That there was a violent, extremely aggressive crowd trying to disrupt polling has already been shown in several videos and testimonies of local residents in the media.

To express sympathies with the grieving families, assure assistance are humanitarian gestures but to go ahead and declare the dead men as martyrs at a time shows Mamata Bannerjee has already conveyed who she thinks is guilty. She had already termed it a 'genocide' right after the incident. By declaring the dead a 'shaheed' the inquiry seems to be over for her and judgment delivered. Why, then, are her party spokespersons blaming BJP for giving a clean chit to the security personnel? Aren't they pre-empting the judgment too? Will this not be seen as a blatant attempt to give a subtle (or rather not so subtle) message to a particular community since all the four victims of firing belonged to the minority community? The BJP has already fired salvos at Bannerjee for her selective sympathy in this case though TMC vehemently denied the charge. The complaint was over the death of the fifth man, a young Hindu first time voter, who died in another incident in Sitalkuchi but not at the same booth.

In this high decibel, highly polarized West Bengal election, the atmosphere became particularly vitiated when Mamata Bannerjee, who had already called the paramilitary 'BJP-CRPF' told a gathering that women should not fear anything. If needed they should 'gherao' the security personnel and prevent them from any action if prevented from voting. It has been TMC's constant complaint that security forces are acting partisan and preventing her voters at the booths. Though wherever they complained of such a thing, the EC has given its ruling that the complaints were baseless. Since the Sitalkuchi incident happened just two days after her gherao comment, the connect between her provocative remarks and the incident was expected. No matter how much the TMC spokesperson's may explain that by gherao she meant peaceful protest, perception has gone out that her provocative words egged people to take on the forces.

Another ghastly incident, this time in Uttar Dinajpur, has sent shock waves across states. Ashwini Kumar, an SHO rank officer from Kishanganj in adjoining Bihar had gone to Uttar Dinajpur in hot pursuit of a bike looters' gang along with his team of cops. When they entered a colony, they were surrounded by a murderous crowd. Local media has reported that this followed an announcement from the mosque. The crowd beat up the officer with such frenzy that he died even as his colleagues fled the spot. Bihar Police has since suspended the others in the team for abandoning their colleague but one can visualize the situation they were in. To add to the tragedy, the slain officer's ailing mother died of shock on seeing her son dead.

Ashwini Kumar's murder in cold blood reminded me of a similar killing in UP's Pratapgarh when UP Police DSP Zia-ul-Haq was beaten to death by a mob.

Provoking crowds to go after uniformed personnel who are deployed to perform their duties for scoring a political point is playing with fire which can only result in anarchy. It behoves nobody, much less a politician holding a constitutional post.

(Smita Mishra, Adviser, Prasar Bharati)

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