On June 14, 24-year-old Shafina Bibi went to hear Bengali film actor Tapas Paul, also the MP from her constituency Krishnanagar, speak at a rally. Five minutes into the speech, she ran away, unable to believe what she had just heard.
“It was about one in the afternoon when we heard Tapas Paul would come. We are CPM supporters but also great fans of Paul. We saw his films, he was like a man of our dreams. But what he said was like a third-class gangster. I clearly heard him say, ‘I will send my boys to rape.’ I was disillusioned — our dream hero could utter such words, that too for women,” the mother of one told The Indian Express, sitting in her house in Choumuha, 150-km from Kolkata.
Her neighbour, Johura Bibi said, “We feel threatened. Paul is our MP but he is a popular hero. He is educated. How can he say such things?” Choumuha is a hamlet comprising 1,700 residents — all of them Muslims and most of them farmers. Under Nakashipara Assembly constituency, Choumuha has predominantly CPM supporters.
On June 14, Paul, who came to a neighbouring village to visit the family of a TMC supporter who allegedly died in a clash with CPM supporters, stopped at Choumuha. Two other TMC supporters had reportedly died at a neighbouring village that day. At Choumuha, some in the audience recorded his speech on their mobiles. Later, local CPM supporters obtained the video from TMC supporters, many of whom did not approve of Paul’s words.
Asheeda Bibi, a TMC supporter, is one of them. “I organised a stool for Tapas da to stand on and brought water for people. But what he said was painful. He even said referring to the policemen standing there: ‘Just kick them out. They cannot protect our children.’ I am really scared. The MP who came here to settle disputes gave people licence to rape and murder. I exhort Didi to arrest him,” Asheeda said.
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Some, like Asheeda’s brother-in-law Mokai Shaikh, defended Paul. “Look at the circumstances under which he said those words,” Mokai said. Meanwhile, Paul’s wife Nandini said, “He should not have said those words, but you have to keep in mind the situation in which he said this.”