It is more than mere judicial tut-tutting. The setback has been devastating and the nature of governance in West Bengal must now be open to question as never before. Friday’s order of Calcutta High Court (coram: SS Nijjar, CJ; and Pinaki Chandra Ghose, J) leaves the government without a leg to stand upon. The conduct of the administration stands indicted with the observation that the 14 March firing in Nandigram was “wholly unconstitutional”. Which implies that the action was totally out of proportion to the provocation. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, as the political curator of Nandigram, as the Chief Minister and the Home (Police) Minister must acknowledge his own direct culpability. At the very least, and as had been suggested in these columns eight months ago, he must resign from the position of the Police minister.
That the government plans to go in appeal is neither here nor there; the Court has not stayed the operation of its order and unless the Supreme Court sets it aside, the indictment stands. Politically, the Marxists often claim the high moral ground; if Mr Bhattacharjee remains head of the police establishment, his party will lose the right to ever criticise a Narendra Modi or Bal Thackeray.
The court has rubbished the claim of sovereign immunity in defence of the action. The message must be resonant enough: for exactly eight months was the state trying to defend the indefensible. The indictment and the defeat is legal as well as administrative. The armed offensive against peasants, intent on protecting their source of livelihood, was carried out with a calculated ruthlessness that was seemingly more brutal than the firing on refugees in Marichjhanpi (1978), against the Gorkhaland agitators (1986) and against Mamata Banerjee’s rally at Esplanade (1993). It bears recall too that the nature of the bullet injuries ~ on the backs of victims ~ was completely inhuman. The government has been put on notice, and there may yet be more worms crawling out of the Nandigram can as the CBI has been directed to continue the probe. The compensation for the rape victims confirms reports that the party and government had tried to reject.
Thoroughly contemptuous and deserving of censure has been Binoy Konar’s reaction: “Does the court expect the police to contain rowdies by spraying Gangajal and reading out the Gita?” Such vacuity is of a piece with the rusgolla-mudki analogy of Biman Bose, who now carps at the judiciary for delayed development. Mr Bose is already before the Supreme Court appealing an earlier judgment of the High Court holding him guilty of contempt. That the matter has not been taken up for consideration ought not to be construed as licence to shoot his mouth off.
Sunday, November 18, 2007