How else does one explain her government regularly dishing out controversies on a platter to her political opponents? The baton charging of women protesting eviction from a slum by male police, the arrest of those agitating against the assault, muscle flexing by ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) men vis-a-vis a small but feisty human rights group close to Banerjee’s Kalighat residence — the unending chain of events in a short span of time has triggered much condemnation from across society.
However, the midnight arrest of a Jadavpur University professor and a septuagenarian retired engineer in connection with the online circulation of a cartoon strip which the authorities saw as defaming Banerjee, or ‘Didi’ as she is popularly known, was the icing on the cake. The collage of cartoons allegedly forwarded by physical chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra included the photographs of Banerjee and Railway Minister Mukul Roy and used some dialogues of filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s Bengali detective masterpiece Sonar Kella.
It showed the two TMC leaders discussing how to get rid of party leader Dinesh Trivedi. Subrata Sengupta, a former Public Works Department engineer, was taken into custody, as Mahapatra had sent the cartoons from the registered e-mail id of the housing cooperative of which Sengupta was secretary. The mail account had been opened in Sengupta’s name.
But what was more laughable were the charges. The duo was booked for outraging the modesty of a woman, defamation and hacking. Though the professor and the retired engineer got bail from the court, there was a distinct similarity in the modus operandi in their case as also that involving the attack on the human rights group.
The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) activists, intending to take out a pre-announced procession, were first roughed up by youths allegedly close to TMC. Within minutes, police, instead of taking action against the culprits, arrested the APDR people. Mahapatra was also first allegedly beaten up by TMC men and forced to write out a signed statement that he had circulated the cartoon “motivatedly” as he was a CPI-Marxist activist. And then police swung into action based on a complaint by someone who does not even have an e-mail account to take the professor and the retired, ailing engineer into custody.
After their release, Mahapatra filed a counter complaint, and buckling under the storm of protests, four of the youths were arrested. But they were bailed out within hours. Now there is a fresh angle to the story. It has been reported that those who attacked Mahapatra were members of a building material suppliers’ syndicate with links to the TMC. It is being said that bills worth Rs 17 lakh submitted by suppliers were being withheld by the housing society which doubted how genuine these were. Mahapatra is assistant secretary of the cooperative. Meanwhile Banerjee appears unfazed. While she defended the arrests, a source close to her said, “This will not have any impact on her support base, as very few people are bothered with Facebook and Twitter.”