From a United Nation peacekeeper to political intimidator, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Ghatal in West Midnapore district of West Bengal, Bharati Ghosh epitomises an identity paradox.
At least that is what many in her constituency believe and her detractors, who were her cheerleaders until recently, affirm.
During her stint as superintendent of police of the district, this 57-year-old Harvard-educated IPS officer was often accused, ironically by none other than the BJP, of being a politician in police uniform.
She, on her part, never concealed her political affinity, rather she flaunted it. At a function, she once even went to the extent of describing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as ‘mother’ of Jungle Mahal, an erstwhile hotbed of Maoists, spread over three districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore.
She was allegedly a de facto leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the area and even had a say in deciding portfolios of the local party office bearers.
Owing to her alleged proximity to the ruling party, the election commission had shunted her out of the district, ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections in the state. She was then an officer on special duty on Left-wing extremism—a post the state government had created only months ago, ostensibly, to pre-empt her possible transfer.
Even before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the state government, after initial reluctance, had to remove Ghosh from the district, complying with an EC order. Interestingly, her name featured in the lists of officers whose transfer was demanded by the BJP during the election.
She was, however, quickly reinstated as the SP of the district on both occasions soon after elections were over. That was her clout. The CM often used to say: “Bharati khub bhalo meye; o sab ta dekhe nebe” (Bharati is a very good girl and she will manage everything).
She was credited for tackling the Maoist problem in the state effectively and even played an active role in eliminating Maoist leader Kishenji besides ensuring the surrender of many senior Maoist leaders. For the job well-done she was awarded the chief minister’s commendable service medal on August 15, 2014. Even then, she was criticised for her ‘high-handedness’ in dealing with the Maoist insurgency in the region.
The state government, however, ignored all the charges. Ghosh, who served the peacekeeping force for more than three years in Kosovo, Somalia and other countries, was known to Mamata Banerjee since she was a deputy superintendent of police.
Fallout with the TMC
Soon after result of a by-poll for Sabang Assembly seat in West Midnapore was declared on December 24, 2017, Ghosh was transferred and made the commandant of the state armed police’s third battalion in Barrackpore.
Though the state government had termed her transfer a case of ‘routine reshuffle’, it was almost obvious that she got the shunting order as the ruling dispensation suspected her of working in favour of BJP’s Mukul Roy—who had switched over to the saffron party from the TMC—in the by-poll.
Trinamool leader Manas Bhunia’s wife Gita Bhunia though won the seat, the BJP’s vote share jumped from 2.6% in 2016 to 18% in the by-election.
Ghosh refused to take the new charge and resigned from the police service.
In the meantime, several cases were registered against her including a case of alleged extortion and fraud. An arrest warrant was issued against her in February this year. Earlier, police raids at her properties led to the seizure of land sale deeds involving transactions of around ₹300 crore, 57 sealed bottles of imported scotch and 1.1 kg of gold.
Amidst the charges, just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections she joined the BJP and got the party nomination to contest the poll from Ghatal. Her main rivals are sitting TMC MP Deepak Adhikari (Dev), who is currently one of the highest paid Bengali film actors, Tapan Ganguly of the CPI and Khandakar Md Saifullah of the Congress.
Skeletons in the closet, however, continue to haunt her.
“People of the area still associate her with all the ills afflicting the ruling TMC,” said a local youth, who preferred to remain anonymous as Ghosh’s writ still runs in the area.
He has a reason to be scared. Ghosh might no longer be the SP of the district, but she has not lost an ounce of her swagger.
On April 21, she berated Keshpur police station’s officer-in-charge Hirak Biswas for shops shutting their doors during her ‘padayatra.’ A few days later, officer-in-charge of Anandpur police station Subir Majhi was at the receiving end of her ire.
“When she was a police officer, she behaved like a politician and now even after donning political hat, she continues to behave like the SP of the district,” quipped a TMC leader.
She shot to nationwide infamy earlier this month when a video went viral that showed her threatening two TMC workers, saying she would bring 1000 men from Uttar Pradesh to pull the ruling party workers out of their homes and beat them up like dogs. Taking cognisance of the remark, the EC sought a report from the district electoral officer over the matter.
Greeted with ‘lal salam’
Her past found a bizarre way of catching up with her last month. In the Pingla area of her constituency, a group of her supporters, mostly turncoats from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), started shouting “Bharati Ghosh…tomay janai lal, lal, lal salam”(Red salute to Bharati Ghosh), the moment she stepped out of her SUV to campaign in the area.
The irony of the popular Communist slogan was not lost on anyone. After all it was Ghosh who as SP of the district was allegedly instrumental in decimating the Left Front in the area.
Ghosh’s shifting of allegiance is not limited to her political affiliation. A cursory look at her academic career reveals her love for change. Sample this. Ghosh completed MBA from the Jadavpur University in Kolkata and an LLB from the Burdwan University. She then studied international marketing and psycho analytical theory from summer school of Harvard University and then pursued political science at the London School of Economics.
Undoubtedly the most academically accomplished among all the candidates in the fray for the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, Ghosh is also perhaps the most controversial.
Ghatal goes to poll on May 12.