Former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Wednesday defended the police firing on Youth Congress supporters at Esplanade area of Kolkata on July 21, 1993, saying it became necessary to contain the violence unleashed by the crowds whose target was to enter forcibly and occupy the Writers Building.
In his first appearance in the witness box of an inquiry commission after he lost the elections in May, 2011, the Marxist leader and chief minister of West Bengal for 10 years, drew a parallel between the agitation of that day and the attack of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on Poland in 1939.
The commission headed by Justice Sushanta Chatterjee (retd) was set up by the Trinamool Congress government to probe into the police firing on July 21, 1993 that killed 16 people.
“There are two types of political agitations. One is positive and one is negative. As there is a difference between the attack of the Nazis on Danric of Poland in 1939 and the attack of the Red Army on Berlin in 1945. The rally on that day was nothing but an exercise in entering forcibly and capturing the Writers’ Building by a group of people and so the police firing was quite justified,” Bhattacharjee said.
Bhattacharjee, who is also a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that there was large-scale violence during the agitation and at least 70 police personnel were injured.
“All movements are not democratic movements and all police firings cannot be condemned in one word,” Bhattacharjee said, adding that he had discussions with Congress leaders who also did not agree with the way the rally was conducted.
Asked by Justice Chatterjee on why no judicial inquiry was not ordered by the then government, Bhattacharjee said he felt it was not necessary.
“From the police report I thought no judicial inquiry was needed and I still stick to the stand,” said Bhattacharjee, who at that time held the portfolio of information and culture.
When the commission chairman mentioned that his other cabinet colleagues, according to media reports of that time, were in favour of a judicial probe, Bhattacharjee said he did not agree with them.
On Justice Chatterjee’s reference that both the city police headquarters and the State’s Home Department have failed to come up with any executive inquiry report, the former Chief Minister said that it was “ unfortunate” and urged the Commission to press upon the State government to provide necessary documents.
He wondered how the Commission would function if it did not have access to these documents.
When Justice Chatterjee showed him a photograph published in a newspaper where a policeman was shown aiming at the crowd from a distance, Bhattachjee said that no conclusion could be drawn by looking at a single photograph and said that those who died in the police firing might have been innocent pedestrians. He, however, said he had no problem if they were called `martyrs’.
When told by the chairman that a minister in the present government (Madan Mitra, minister for transport,) said while deposing before the commission earlier that Bhattacharjee was the de facto home minister at that time, having full control over the police, Bhattacharjee said that no importance should be given to comments of a `morone, a fool’.
However Bhattacharjee, in effect, admitted that he was indeed in charge of the police who reported to him on all the developments of the incident.
“On that day I had no problem in coming to the Writers’ Building and leaving it in the afternoon. I got to know about the minute developments as I had to brief the media,” Bhattacharjee said.
He also urged the Commision to summon Manish Gupta, then home secretary and now minister for power, as he said he knew everything regarding the incident. Gupta has already deposed before the commission.
“If necessary we will call him again,” Justice Chatterjee told Indian Express.
The former chief minister was accompanied by former Kolkata Mayor and advocate Bikash Bhattacharya and CPIM state secretariat member Rabin Dev.
Madan Mitra, minister for transport reacted by saying that Bhattacharjee’s statement actually proved that they indeed indulged in police firings. “Whatever they say before the commission people have seen everything and they will give a befitting reply,” Mitra said.