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A poriborton for the worse

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has more to answer for than the custodial death of Students Federation of India activist Sudipta Gupta.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2013 21:45 IST
Students Federation of India,sfi leader,sudipta gupta

An obvious sense of déjà vu accompanied a demand made by the Students Federation of India (SFI) on Wednesday. Protesting the custodial death of 22-year-old activist Sudipta Gupta in Kolkata, the student organisation had called for a 12-hour strike in West Bengal.

Back in December 2010, the student wing of the CPI(M) had asked for a similar bandh. Months before Mamata Banerjee assumed the chief minister's office in 2011, the SFI had claimed that another of its supporters had been killed during a political clash.

An RTI application later led the State Crime Records Bureau to reveal that within just the first five months of Ms Banerjee's tenure, West Bengal had witnessed 642 political clashes in which 128 students were injured. Sudipta Gupta's death, it seems, is a familiar chapter in a violent epic.

Thursday's shutdown of Kolkata wasn't only dictated by political empathy. Arrested while protesting the postponing of student union elections in the state, Sudipta's death has given rise to a conflict of competing narratives. While eyewitnesses and the Gupta family allege police brutality, the official explanation given by the state government appears woefully inadequate.

The West Bengal CM's claim that "the boy accidentally dashed his head against a lamppost" seems to be contradictory to the view of forensic experts at the SSKM hospital, who after having examined Sudipta, came to the conclusion that the student activist had suffered two severe head injuries and a blow on the jaw. That Sudipta was affiliated to her rival party is only going to help fuel further doubts about Ms Banerjee's style of governance.

In February, Kolkata police commissioner RK Pachnanda was transferred after the killing of a sub-inspector in broad daylight. While political detractors argued that the move would only help shield Trinamool Congress workers who were being linked to the case, some police officers unofficially admitted to feeling demoralised.

Ms Banerjee's decision came just a few days after she had publicly advocated a whipping for her personal security guards and months after she had stormed Kolkata's Bhowanipore police station to force the release of two Trinamool members who had been arrested on charges of rioting and arson.

This seemingly arrogant and heavy-handed approach of the state government is also reflected in its ongoing battle with the state election commission. Trinamool Congress' claim that central forces are not required for the upcoming panchayat elections is defeated in part by the limits of its rationale. Despite their affirmations, Sudipta's death proves that the law and order situation in Bengal is anything but 'satisfactory'.

Ms Banerjee has for long argued that she is a victim of history, that violence in the state's politics is a remnant of communist excess. Given this admission, it might well be time to write an obituary for that promised poriborton (change).

First Published: Apr 04, 2013 21:41 IST