The open display of loyalties for the ruling party in Bengal, by a number of policemen of the Asansol-Durgapur Police commissionerate, has not only raised questions of propriety, impartiality and discipline but also unwittingly brought into sharp focus the unfulfilled vow of Mamata Banerjee to depoliticise the police force in Bengal.
In Asansol, a group of policemen under Asansol-Durgapur Police commissionerate pinned badges in the format of handbills titled “Protest” to their uniforms on Monday. The badges were to protest the attack on Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, allegedly by SFI activists, in New Delhi last Tuesday. The group was led by assistant sub-inspector Priti Mukul Roy, a member of the Trinamool-dominated West Bengal Police Association (WBPA). They went from one police station to another around 9 am and pinned the badges on several policemen on duty.
The handbills did not name any political party but their content left little doubt where the policemen’s sympathies lay.
“We protest and condemn the well-planned and barbaric attack on the honourable chief minister of Bengal and other senior ministers in Delhi on April 9, 2013,” the badges said.
The badge was signed by Bijiteswar Raut, who claimed to be the general secretary of the West Bengal Police Association which, incidentally, is presently non-existent. When asked by reporters, Raut said he had issued the badges because he felt the need to do it “from the core of his heart. I felt it (the attack on the ministers) was bad and that we should protest it”. “I have distributed about 35,000 badges,” he added.
Asked, sub-inspector Priti Mukul Roy said: “Today we have donned badges on our uniforms and performed duty from 9am-11am to protest the assault on our chief minister in Delhi. Apart from being policemen, we are common people of Bengal and I do not think our protest has violated any law. Everyone has their political liking and has the right to protest without taking the law into their hands.”
A policeman who took part in the protest claimed that he and his colleagues were only replicating a similar protest by a group of policemen at Writers’ on April 11.
he protest by the policemen evoked disbelief and dismay among even veteran officers who are no stranger to the deep politicization of almost every institution in Bengal.
“I have never experienced such an incident in my life,” said Tushar Talukdar, a former commissioner of police in Calcutta. “The protest sounds like the voice of a political party.”
A serving IPS officer who did not want to be named said: “A policeman is a part of a disciplined force and cannot take part in any kind of protest in uniform, especially on an issue which both the ruling and Opposition parties are trying to cash in on.”
According to Clause V of the Police Regulations of Calcutta, which were drawn up in 1968, “no change is permissible on the uniform. Employees are directed to use the uniform as it was issued to them”.
The police are governed by the Police Regulations, Bengal. Senior officers said the uniform could not be tampered with under these regulations, too.
According to the rulebook, pinning a protest badge on a police uniform is not permissible at all, Talukdar said.
An officer of Bengal police on anonymity said: “If anyone flouts this norm, the person should be put under suspension immediately and a departmental probe has to be initiated.”
Ajay Nand, the Asansol-Durgapur police commissioner, said he was not aware of the matter. “Nobody had informed me of the event today and I was not aware of it. However, I have ordered a probe after learning about the incident and action will be taken if anybody is found guilty,” he said.
CPM zonal secretary of Asansol, Partha Mukherjee said the incident proves that the state police is not neutral and that is one reason why the Left parties were seeking central forces for the panchayat polls. “If policemen take sides in a political issue like this, how could they be expected to carry out a neutral investigation into the ransacking of our party offices? Our allegations that a section of policemen is working at the behest of Trinamool has come true after today’s incident. We have no faith in the state police and today’s incident is proof of it,” said Mr. Mukherjee.
CPM leaders in Asansol said they would lead a deputation to the Asansol-Durgapur police commissioner, Ajay Nand.