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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Newsmaker | Nandigram, now Birbhum: IPS officer at receiving end of Mamata Banerjee anger

TMC defends CM pulling up SP Nagendra Nath Tripathi, BJP slams 'politicisation of police'

Written by Sweety Kumari | Kolkata |
Updated: April 30, 2022 7:48:45 am
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with the victims' kin in Birbhum. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

Facing criticism over recent incidents of violence in West Bengal such as the Birbhum killings and Nadia rape, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on April 27 said the state police’s inaction had embarrassed her government. Among the officers who faced the CM’s ire was Birbhum Superintendent of Police (SP) Nagendra Nath Tripathi.

“This has happened completely because of your negligence … The government had a loss of face because of your mistake …,” Banerjee told Tripathi at an administrative review meeting, referring to the killing of nine people in the village of Bogtui in Rampurhat on March 21 following the murder of a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader. Had the deputy SP of the area been proactive, the retaliatory killings could have been avoided, the CM added.

This is not the first time Tripathi has come into the spotlight because of an interaction with Banerjee. During the Assembly elections last year, the Election Commission (EC) tasked him with supervising the polls in Nandigram that the TMC chairperson contested against incumbent Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP.

On polling day, the IPS officer was seen repeatedly pleading with Banerjee to move out of a polling booth where she alleged rigging had occurred. Tripathi tried to reassure the CM saying he would protect the dignity of his uniform by acting neutrally. Banerjee was held up for more than two hours inside the booth as TMC and BJP supporters nearly came to blows. Her security guards formed a cordon as she waited in a wheelchair. She moved out only after a large contingent of central forces and police personnel reached the site. Banerjee lost the election to Adhikari, a former confidante, by a narrow margin of 1,956 votes.

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“CM Mamata Banerjee has sent a strong message through her recent statement,” said a TMC leader who did not wish to be named. “It clearly shows how tough she is when it comes to dealing with crime. The BJP, which only uses central agencies for political benefits, must learn from this. It clearly shows that no one is above the law in Bengal.”

Hitting back at the ruling party and the CM, former BJP state president and Medinipur MP Dilip Ghosh told The Indian Express, “It is her old practice. Whenever something untoward happens, she shrugs off all responsibilities and looks for scapegoats. She wanted to send a message that the administration is tough on everyone and that Mamata Banerjee is never at fault so that she could keep her image intact.”

At least eight houses were set on fire in Birbhum. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

Senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha said that “the politicisation of the police” was the reason why officers’ names were getting dragged into every kind of case. “When Mamata Banerjee saw the delay in action in Bogtui affected her core vote base, she took notice. Following this incident, the TMC lost in two wards in Ballygunge that have the most minority voters. That is why Mamata is venting out her frustration on the police. Instead of giving such statements, she should give free hand to the police. I strongly believe our police force is capable of preventing all crimes.”

Retired IPS officer Pankaj Dutta, the former Inspector General of West Bengal Police, said an IPS officer’s actions should be scrutinised but not at the cost of damaging morale. “The CM is right, if an IPS fails to do his or her duty, he will be scanned but I reiterate that you can scan, dissect, review, and analyse his actions and conduct but not at the cost of damaging anyone’s morale in the presence of so many of his subordinates. The moment it is done during a live telecast, then the matter isn’t in the private domain. When IAS and IPS officers are chided openly, then their morale can take a hit. It doesn’t bring the desired result. The officer reviewed by the CM is sitting with many other officers who are below his rank and it can never be a morale booster for any administration. At the end of the day, an officer is a family man and he is belittled when he returns home.”

He added, “I was the SP of two districts and worked for administrations in the last three decades and a half. I believe that Constitution and law have empowered IPS officers that they are their own bosses. Whatever they are expected to do is as per the law of the land. If one works as per the law of the land, then where is the scope of going wrong?”

EC’s praise for Tripathi

A 2009-batch IPS officer, Tripathi was posted as Deputy Commissioner of Police (II) in the state detective department before the 2016 Assembly elections. Under this leadership, the police carried out preventive arrests, took steps against suspected miscreants, made arrests and seized weapons and crude bombs in Kolkata in the run-up to the elections. The officer received praise from the Election Commission (EC). On April 21, 2016, he received media attention for allegedly slapping the owner of a landmark sweet shop for keeping the establishment open during voting.

After the TMC government began its second stint, five IPS officers, including him, were sent on compulsory waiting. He was later reinstated and served as the Commandant of the State Armed Police’s 10th Battalion. In 2018, he was posted as Deputy Commissioner (Traffic) in the Siliguri Police Commissionerate. He played a significant role in improving the city’s traffic system. The same year, he was promoted and transferred to Dakshin Dinajpur district as SP.
Last year, the senior IPS officer received the National Award for Best Electoral Practices for 2021-’22 from the EC.

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