There are two types of police in West Bengal. The first consists of those who refuse to take action even when there is a clear case for taking action. The second consists of those who move with alacrity and vehemence on innocent people and even deny them their legitimate constitutional and legal rights. The distinction has been driven home in the events of the last few days. The police stood by and did nothing while the cadre of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) wreaked destruction and mayhem in Nandigram. Even the CRPF was rendered inactive by human shields. On the very day the CRPF was stopped by CPI(M) activists near Tamluk, in Calcutta a group of artists and writers, who were protesting near the Academy of Fine Arts, were arrested and some of them were even beaten up. The protest against the violence in Nandigram was by no means violent: the artists and the writers were singing songs of dissent. No explanation was offered to them for their arrests. The speed and the efficiency with which the police moved against these dissenters in Calcutta was in sharp contrast with the appalling incompetence the police exhibited when handling the violence in Nandigram.
It would be erroneous to believe that the police in West Bengal are good at breaking up peaceful shows of protests, and are hopeless when quelling an armed mob. It would be a greater mistake to harp on the distinction between the West Bengal police and the Calcutta police. The fact of the matter is that the police under CPI(M) rule do what the party orders them to do. They could attack peaceful protesters outside the Academy of Fine Arts because they thought the singing could disrupt the International Film Festival being held in Nandan, which is adjacent to the Academy. The film festival is the pet project of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is also the police minister of the state. The links are all too evident. Similarly, it would not be unfair to suspect that the police inactivity in Nandigram has had party sanction. The passivity of the police in Nandigram revealed that the government is unable or unwilling to enforce law and order in the area, and to restore to the homeless their basic rights. The police action in Calcutta showed that when they so want, the police can ride roughshod over the rights of citizens. The right of peaceful protest, Mr Bhattacharjee should know, is a fundamental democratic right.