The leader of the opposition, Abdul Mannan, was rushed to hospital and women legislators alleged manhandling as pandemonium broke out in the West Bengal legislative assembly on Wednesday over the protest of opposition parties to a Bill proposed by the government to make vandals pay for any damage to public and private property.
The Congress and the Left Front are opposed to the Bill, have called it ‘draconian’ and alleged that it is aimed at curbing protests. Tension was triggered after opposition MLAs pointed out that Trinamool Congress MLAs unleashed unprecedented vandalism in the assembly itself on November 30, 2006 when the Left Front was in power.
Mannan carried pictures of the vandalism by TMC leaders in the house, and was greeted by protests from the ruling party MLAs.
On that day, Trinamool MLAs present in the Assembly destroyed a large number of furniture, many of them antiques, the moment Mamata Banerjee, then an MP, entered the House to tell her colleagues how the police barred her from entering Singur.
On Wednesday, Congress and Left MLAs tried to enter the Assembly carrying posters depicting the destruction of furniture of the Assembly.
However, speaker Biman Bandyopadhyay did not allow Congress and Left MLAs to enter the House carrying those posters. Veteran Congress leader and leader of the opposition, Abdul Mannan, defied the speaker and wore a jacket made of the posters, following which the speaker suspended Mannan for the day and asked the Marshall to take him out of the House.
While Mannan refused to leave and squatted in the well, he was forcibly taken away. He fell ill following the scuffle.
The state government appeared determined to get the legislation passed. After the Bhangar agitation on January 17 when a number of police vehicles were set on fire and the Aushgram police station was set ablaze on January 28, the chief minister announced that they will enact a legislation that will make vandals pay for any damage they cause to property, both public and private.
“The existing law of 1972 had provisions for penalising those who damaged public property. This new law will ensure those vandalising private property will be penalised as well,” said parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee in a press conference. He also pointed out that “it will help in protecting places of worship, and thereby help in preserving communal peace.”
“The destruction of Assembly’s furniture by Trinamool Congress MLAs in November 2006 was unprecedented. So is the way the Leader of the Opposition was suspended and forcibly taken away today,” said Sujan Chakraborty, the leader of CPI(M) legislative party.
“The law aims at curbing protests by threatening commoners with unprecedented consequences,” CPI(M) MLA and former Left Front minister Ashok Bhattacharya said.
Left and Congress MLAs went to Raj Bhavan, seeking an appointment with the Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, but were unable to meet him till this report was filed.
Incidentally, after the destruction of Assembly furniture by TMC MLAs, former speaker Hasim Abdul Hailm opened up the House for the people to walk in and see for themselves the destruction.
Following the scuffle on Wednesday, the Speaker allowed journalists to enter the House and witness how the Left and Congress MLAs ransacked the House. The chief minister apologised to the speaker for the ‘misbehaviour of the opposition MLAs’.
“The opposition created a ruckus instead of engaging in discussions because they are running out of issues,” said veteran Trinamool leader and panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee.
Later, chief minister Mamata Banerjee sent three Trinamool MLAs, Shashi Panja, Manas Bhuniya and Sudershan Ghosh Dastidar - all of whom are doctors - to see Mannan at the hospital.
While no furniture was destroyed on Wednesday, some microphones were allegedly damaged and important papers went missing. Government sources claimed that charges would be framed against opposition MLAs for the vandalism on Wednesday according to the provisions of the new law.
The marshall said that 11 of the security guards were injured in the scuffle with the MLAs.