Curtains fall on one of Bengal's most controversial leaders | kolkata | Hindustan Times
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Curtains fall on one of Bengal's most controversial leaders

kolkata Updated: Nov 07, 2010 00:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das

With Siddhartha Shankar Ray's death at 90 on Saturday, curtains were drawn on the most interesting, flamboyant and colourful chapter in post-Independence West Bengal.

Ray's tenure as chief minister between 1972 and 1977 was dogged with several controversies — he was ruthless in dealing with the Naxalites in the 1970s and strongly supported the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister in June, 1975.

But it was his maverick stature as a politician who infused a new wave in turbulent political scenario of the late 1960s and 1970s that made the chapter interesting.

Born to an illustrious lineage — his father Sudhir Kumar Ray was a well-known barrister and mother Aparna Devi was the daughter of the revolutionary freedom fighter Chittaranjan Das — Ray did not have to live the life of an ordinary man.

He played tennis and loved cricket. He was flamboyant in his approach and, at times, almost as flashy as the bold colours he wore.

Ray started his political carrier as a cabinet minister in the Bidhan Chandra Roy government but it was his fast rise in the corridors of power in New Delhi and proximity to Gandhi that catapulted his career.

He served as Union minister for education and health between 1992 and 96.

But the high point of Ray's career was his tenure as chief minister, considered by many as the darkest phase in Bengal's history.

It was during this period that the Naxalite movement, which began as a peasants' movement in 1967, gathered momentum. Ray instituted many draconian counter-measures to end the movement. Several youths lost their lives in fake encounters and torture while in police custody became the norm.

Yet, Gandhi had immense faith in his capabilities as administrator. Gandhi's son Rajiv appointed Ray as the governor of Punjab during the height of Khalistan movement in 1986.

During PV Narasimha Rao's tenure, Ray was appointed ambassador to the US in 1992.