Bengal intellectuals, ex-AG slam Trinamool regime, say ‘democracy in danger’; Mamata says they are misled by media
Prominent Bengali intellectuals, including those who stood by Mamata Banerjee in her fight against the Left Front regime, on Wednesday slammed Trinamool Congress for displaying ‘totalitarian and dictatorial tends’ and called for electoral reforms.
“We have been shamed in front of the democracy-loving people at home and abroad by the incidents that have taken place in the nomination phase of the panchayat polls,” said a statement issued by some of Bengal’s prominent theatre personalities, educationists, lawyers, human rights activists and folk singers. Former advocate general Bimal Chatterjee, who resigned last year, also signed the statement.
“The state’s ruling party is desperate to ensure a walkover. They want to leave no trace of opposition. This will ruin democracy. Bengal will have a disabled democracy if this goes on,” Chatterjee said at a media conference called by the intellectuals.
The reactions came in the wake of widespread violence across Bengal over filing of nomination for the three-tier rural polls scheduled in the first week of May.
Those to signed the statement also included filmmaker Aparna Sen, singer Pallab Kirtania, human rights activist Sujato Bhadro, educationist Miratun Nahar.
Trinamool Congress refuted the charges and alleged that the intellectuals blindly followed biased media reports without checking facts.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee alleged in the evening that the intellectuals were misled by a section of the media. “They were guided by a media house what wants to please BJP. I have specific information that the intellectuals went to the Kolkata Press Club (where the media conference was held) in the car of a leader of the Socialist Unity Centre of India,” Banerjee alleged.
“The ruling party’s attempt to win elections without facing contest has left us deeply worried. There seems to be no control on unruly elements and criminals are calling the shots. If this is the state of affairs at the time of filing nominations, we can’t dare to imagine the scene during the elections,” said veteran theatre personality Bibhas Chakraborty.
“It will be a disgrace if we cannot stop this from happening,” added the septuagenarian who shared dais with Mamata Banerjee several times during the Singur-Nandigram movements against Left regime.
The press meet was held by Shilpi Sanskritik Kormi O Buddhijibi Mancha, a forum that played a key role in creating public opinion against the Left Front during its last leg (2006-2011).
“Nothing is more dangerous than authoritarianism. By trying to stop the opposition from contesting polls, the regime is trying to emerge as a totalitarian government,” said singer Pratul Mukhopadhyay who shared dais with Banerjee several times before and after she came to power.
“It was to fight a totalitarian regime (Left Front) that we took to the streets, where we met her (Mamata Banerjee) and we walked together. Now, we feel the need to take to the streets again because the regime we helped assume power is turning into a totalitarian one,” added Mukhopadhyay.
The intellectuals demanded changes in laws that govern the state election commission to free it from interference from the state government. They also demanded changes in laws relating to defection by public representatives so that the speaker of a state assembly is bound to act against an alleged defector within a defined time frame.
Most of these intellectuals were bitter critics of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime and accuse the BJP of practicing communal politics. On Wednesday, however, they used their strongest words against the Mamata Banerjee regime.
“The tendency to win without facing contest is dangerous. This dictatorial tendency needs to be combated,” said Sujato Bhadra, one of Bengal’s most prominent human rights activists.
All opposition parties have accused Trinamool of stopping them from fielding candidates so that seats are not contested. Setting an unprecedented example, the ruling party has already bagged two zilla parishads (district councils) without contest, apart from hundreds of seats in gram panchayats and panchayat samitis.
“Opposition parties have filed 70,000 candidates so far, more than they ever did in the past. We could file 30,000 - 35,000 at the most during Left regime. Those who are saying that democracy is in peril either don’t have the information or have been supplied incorrect information,” said Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee.
“Why did the intellectuals fail to see weapons in CPI(M) and BJP rallies?” Chatterjee wondered.
“Earlier there were no television news channels, and therefore, one could not watch the atrocities of the Left supporters,” claimed Chatterjee.
During the day, journalists from print and electronic media took out a silent procession in the heart of Kolkata in protest against attacks on reporters and photographers by goons and supporters of political parties across Bengal.
On Monday, a photojournalist working for an English daily was allegedly assaulted and stripped near the Alipore administrative building in the heart of south Kolkata. He was rescued by other photojournalists. In protest, journalists carried black flags and placards at the procession.
The chief minister said no such incident was reported to her by the police. “I live in the same area. The police said they heard of no such incident,” Banerjee said before leaving the state secretariat.