By Anurag Dey
They are trained and armed to provide security to society but in West Bengal the guardians of law are now literally running for cover after getting assaulted and heckled time and again by “those in power” and even commoners.
Opposition parties and former police officers blame the ruling Trimool Congress and even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the almost daily incidents of violence perpetrated on the men in uniform. The Trimool rubbishes the allegations.
One of the latest incidents of police facing the wrath of the high and mighty featured Debapriya, the niece of Kolkata Mayor Sovon Chatterjee, who allegedly manhandled a cop for daring to pull her up for purported traffic violations.
Three days later, a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable was brutally stoned to death by hawkers enraged over an anti-hawking drive in Malda Town station.
The very same day, police were rendered sitting ducks yet again when scores of men and women invaded the Santragachi police station in Howrah district, attacking the cops with brooms and slippers.
While police maintained the Santragachi attack was organised after the lawkeepers acted on a complaint by a wife against the husband, the locals accused the police of assaulting the man and his mother at the behest of the wife. Adding to the lawkeepers’ perils, in Bagda of North 24 Pargas district, two policemen were thrashed by locals for demolishing a hooch den.
As the men in uniform grappled with the surge of attacks on them, Chief Minister and Trimool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee not only condoned the mayor’s niece for she was just a “little child” but also chided the police.
“Just as all politicians are not honest, all policemen are also not honest. A few policemen are damaging the image of the force. They need counselling,” said Banerjee as she attributed the brutal death of the RPF constable in Malda to the centre’s interference in the state’s affairs.
While the opposition expressed outrage, Banerjee’s remarks came on a day when Union Home Minister Rajth Singh, on a day’s visit to the city, called for bettering the law and order situation in the state, asserting a “lot needed to be done” to improve the situation.
Former city police officer Samir Ganguly blamed the attacks on the Trimool leaders’ penchant for being a “law unto themselves”.
“The force is already stretched to the limit in the state and the frequent attacks have severely dented their morale and confidence,” Ganguly told IANS.
In April, at least five policemen were injured and a few vehicles vandalised when a gang led by Trimool councillor Vikram Gupta ransacked a police outpost in Champdani in Hooghly district. Gupta was furious over the arrest of one of his men for driving a vehicle without valid papers.
In February, former Trimool councillor Chandrabhan Singh led a group of party activists to ransack the Noapara police station in North 24 Pargas district and tried to forcefully release an arrested aide.
In early 2013, the chief minister had come under severe criticism for publicly screaming at the guards: “You should be whipped” after she was made to wait for her car at the Kolkata Book Fair.
The sight of policemen cowering under tables and scurrying for cover are still fresh in the memory of many viewers who had watched the stunning footage aired by TV channels last November when a mob, said to have been led by Trimool leader Pratap Saha, raided the Alipore police station and beat up the securitymen to protest against the eviction of squatters.
Earlier this year, football star-turned Trimool MP Prasun Banerjee was charged with slapping a traffic constable when his car was stopped for a traffic violation. In 2012, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, Akash, hit the headlines for seemingly slapping a traffic policeman. The chief minister however got him promptly arrested.
Former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, zrul Islam held the police equally responsible for the state of affairs.
“There is no doubt it is the highhandedness of the Trimool that has resulted in these attacks but at the same time the police are also to be blamed for the situation they are in.
“Instead of standing up to the political bullying, the police have allowed themselves to become a pawn in the hands of the ruling party,” Islam, who has penned several books, including “The Agony of an IPS Officer’s Realisation” - compiling his experiences under Mamata Banerjee - told IANS.
But Trimool secretary general Partha Chatterjee accused the opposition and a section of the media of colluding to spread “cards”.
“The Trimool government has brought in all-around development, established democracy and there is peace and harmony. The opposition has no issues to raise, so it has been colluding with a section of media to spread cards and misinformation.
“The media has often been twisting facts, and giving incomplete picture to create issues,” Chatterjee told IANS.