Is Mamata 3.0 losing the plot on law & order? Hanskhali incident says yes

The varying stances of the Bengal CM on the rape of a minor in Hanskhali in a span of two weeks indicates her loosening grip over the law and order situation in the state

Reining in offending party functionaries responsible for crimes including rape has now emerged as the biggest challenge for the Mamata Banerjee government with the party’s grassroots-level satraps building their own individual fiefdom in their respective pockets of influence | File Photo

How did the Hanskhali incident take place? What was the police doing? Why did it take three to four days for them to know about the incident? Why were the statements of the victim’s family before the police and the CBI varied?

These were some of the questions Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly asked police in an administrative meeting last week on the alleged rape of a minor at Hanskhali in Nadia district on April 4.

As Mamata finishes the first year of her third tenure as chief minister, her posers were a clear admission of police’s gross negligence in the case. But more than that it also signifies how the CM, who also holds the home portfolio, is fast losing the plot as far as the state’s law and order situation is concerned.

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Weeks ago, when the incident came to light, she had a different take on the incident, even raising doubt about the allegation that the minor was raped.

“What had happened was bad… An arrest has been made. But will you call it rape…or was she pregnant. I was told the girl had an affair with the boy…Why was the body cremated without informing anyone?…Have they (police) inquired?” she had asked at an event in Kolkata on April 11.

Two sets of contrasting questions from the chief minister over the same incident within a span of about two weeks clearly are indicative of the quandary the state government finds itself in while dealing with the deteriorating law-and-order situation in the state.

More than a dozen cases of atrocities against women took place in the past two months.  In most of the cases, the accused have Trinamool Congress (TMC) connections.

At Hanskhali, the minor was allegedly gangraped at the birthday party of a Trinamool Congress panchayat member’s son, a prime suspect in the case.

The girl bled to death the next morning as the family was threatened of dire consequences if the victim was taken to hospital or the matter was reported to the police.

After the girl died, the family members of the victim claimed, a group of people close to the TMC leader forcibly cremated her even before her death certificate was issued.

Only after four days of the incident the bereaved family mustered enough courage to lodge a complaint against the accused at the Hanskhali police station.

Three days before the shocking incident, another gruesome incident of rape and intimidation allegedly by some TMC leaders was reported from Galsi in Burdwan district on April 1.

The same day a 14-year-old Madrassa student was allegedly gangraped in Harischandrapur in Malda district. The accused again owe allegiance to the ruling TMC.

A minor tribal girl was raped in Bolpur in Birbhum district on April 10. A TMC leader was arrested in connection with the incident.

The list is long. A BJP fact-finding team on the Hanskhali incident in a report to its party president J P Nadda claimed there were 27 incidents of crime against women in the state within a span of just 20 days.

Initial response of police and the government in the cases involving the ruling party members and supporters follow the same pattern of cover up attempts with conspiracy theory or downplaying the incident as fabricated. This explains the chief minister’s initial reaction to what had happened in Hanskhali.

This culture of impunity has now created a situation that appears to be going out of the control of the state government.

Crimes against women is just one of the aspects of criminality, which saw an enormous spike in the first one year of the TMC government’s third term.

Intra-party clashes over control of illegal business syndicates, extortion rackets and political turfs have regularly made headlines in the past one year of the TMC rule, which will celebrate its first anniversary on May 5 with 15-day long programmes.

Reining in these offending party functionaries has now emerged as the biggest challenge for the Mamata Banerjee government with the party’s grassroots-level satraps building their own individual fiefdom in their respective pockets of influence.

Police in most cases are either scared to take action against the offenders because of their political colour or act as cohorts of these satraps.

Even after eight people were charred to death in in Birbhum district in late March in one of the worst-ever intra-party clashes in the state, police swung into action to arrest the prime accused Anarul Hossain, a TMC block president, only after chief minister publicly gave instruction for his arrest. It was just one of many instances of sorry state of policing in the state.

Despite the deterioration in law-and-order, the TMC as of now can draw comfort from the continuous shrinking of the opposition space in the state. The party swept the civic body elections as well as the by-polls held since the TMC government returned to power in May last year.

The party managed to maintain its winning streak largely because of the success of a slew of its welfare schemes, ambit of which has been further expanded in its third term with the launch of West Bengal Lakshmi Bhandar Scheme in September last year to provide basic income support to the female heads of the family.

Under this scheme, women belonging to scheduled caste and tribe get ₹1,000 per month while women belonging to the general category get ₹500 per month.

In a state where the monthly average consumption expenditure of a household is ₹5,249, the scheme is an instant hit as it covers 10 to 20 per cent of the monthly consumption expenditure. A whopping 1.6 crore households are the beneficiaries of the scheme.

The people’s growing dependence on the doles has helped the TMC create a kind of patron-client relation between the government and the people wherein the unspoken condition to get the benefit of the welfare schemes is to support the party.

The benefits are often denied to those from the opposition parties. To get the benefits, naturally those from the opposition camps switch loyalties, swelling the TMC’s support base.

The influx while decimating the opposition also creates factions within the party, triggering factional feuds and violence.

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It’s time that the TMC ends this cycle. The chief minister in the late April administrative meeting called the police to take action against offenders without bothering about their political colour.

“Why should the government take a bad name for your negligence…Arrest accused even if one is a big leader… Don’t consider the political affiliation of an accused before taking action,” she reportedly told the officials at the administrative meeting.

The future of the state and her TMC government will depend on how seriously the instructions are followed. Her detractors say that will again depend on how serious she is about cleansing the party.