Union home minister P. Chidambaram today expressed concern over Bengal’s “culture of violence” and advised “the so-called educated classes” to stop living in a “fool’s paradise”.
The first part of the remarks by Chidambaram, who was speaking to industrialists on the need for democratic forms of dissent, was hotly contested by the Mamata Banerjee government that is already suspicious of the UPA because of the Left’s support to the central coalition’s presidential candidate.
“My only concern is the culture of violence in Bengal. Though there has been a remarkable improvement in curbing Naxalite violence in the state, inter-party clashes have been taking place. This is not a good sign for democracy. In a true democracy word should match word, policy should match policy, not bullet for bullet,” Chidambaram told the closing ceremony of the 180th anniversary celebrations of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce.
Chidambaram did laud the state government for the crackdown on Maoists and did say the worst phase of violence was during the run-up to the Assembly polls when the Left was in power.
But his specific reference to the first half of 2012, when the Mamata government was well entrenched, must have been especially galling for chief minister Mamata Banerjee who has repeatedly said she had prevented a bloodbath in the state after the Assembly elections. That the comment was made before industrialists would have rubbed more salt into the wound.
Chidambaram and the state government quoted figures that showed wide variance.
The Union minister did not specify if the figures he cited were directly related to “inter-party” clashes. Neither did he mention the source of the statistics.
“The worst year was 2011, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, with 136 people killed and 2,225 injured in 995 incidents of violence. In 2010, there were 204 deaths and 2,601 were injured in violence. However, in the first half of 2012, there have been 82 killed and 1,112 injured in 455 incidents of violence.”
Chidambaram added: “We ask Naxalites to abjure violence, but we have to show the way. All of us must say that inter-party violence must come to an end. The way in democracy is of legislation, rule of law, deliberation and discussion. However, there is another way — that of street protests, prolonged hunger strikes, acrimony and violence — in democracy. These two sets of ways cannot coexist.
“I’m appalled by the so-called support of the educated classes (in Bengal) to the other ways. They are living in a fool’s paradise.”
Shortly after Chidambaram’s comments, state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said at Writers’ Buildings: “Chidambaram said law and order in Bengal is in a pathetic state. We have checked the state government’s records and his figures are incorrect. This is all being said to create pressure on us on the presidential election. But our party will not buckle under pressure.”
According to Mukherjee, in 2011 there were 62 deaths because of “political clashes” and in 2012 five people had died because of the same reason.
The state minister then threw in a political reason. “Today’s remarks were made to keep the CPM happy because they have assured them their vote in the presidential election. He must remember that law and order is a state subject,” Mukherjee said.
Later, at the state Congress office, Chidambaram said he had not made any comments on law and order in the state.
“I did not comment on the law and order situation. I pointed out that inter-party clashes continued in 2010 and in the run-up to the Assembly polls. In 2011, the level has come down but it is continuing. Inter-party clashes must end,” he said.
At an interactive session at the Press Club earlier in the day, Chidambaram had suggested there was no quick-fix remedy to Bengal’s financial illness.
Asked about Bengal’s appeal for a moratorium on debt servicing, Chidambaram said: “The debt has accumulated over a period of time… and the financial stress can be relieved only over a period of time. It cannot be done in one year.’’
He added: “A wise person that the Prime Minister is and a practical person that the chief minister is, I think they will meet and work it out.’’