Kolkata: An issue a
day keeps boredom at bay - this could well be the guiding
principle of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee these
days. 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 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.
But the midnight arrest Thursday of a Jadavpur University
professor and a septuagenarian retired engineer - who had to spend
16 hours in a police station - 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
It showed the two Trinamool leaders discussing how to get rid of
party leader Dinesh Trivedi, who was forced by the chief minister
to give up the railways portfolio.
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
But what was more laughable were the charges. The duo was booked
for outraging the modesty of a woman - punishable with one year
imprisonment, defamation which carries a maximum term of two years
and hacking, punishable with three years of prison and a fine of
up to Rs.2 lakh.
"I liked the cartoon strip. It was extremely witty and pure fun. I
didn't find anything vulgar in it," said author and Sahitya
Academy chairman Sunil Gangopadhyay, as the collage was repeatedly
aired by national and local television channels.
It was displayed in university campuses as a means of protest by
students, became a hot topic on Twitter and Facebook and was
widely published in the print media Saturday.
Civil society, including many pro-Mamata intellectuals, was up in
arms, besides all political parties, save the Trinamool. Rebel
Trinamool MP Kabir Suman also joined the protests.
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
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 the Trinamool
Congress. Within minutes, police, instead of taking action against
the culprits, arrested the APDR people.
Mahapatra was also first allegedly beaten up by Trinamool men
Thursday night, and forced to write out a signed statement that he
had circulated the cartoon "motivatedly" as he was a Communist
Party of India-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
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.
Actor Kaushik Sen said: "I could not suppress my smile when I
heard about the issue. But at the same time this is not a laughing
matter. If somebody draws a cartoon he has to be arrested? I feel
concerned. May be, later our plays will be stopped and our houses
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 Trinamool. It is being said
that bills worth Rs.17 lakh submitted by suppliers were being
witheld by the housing society which doubted how genuine these
were. Mahapatra is assistant secretary of the cooperative.
Meanwhile Banerjee appears unfazed.
While the chief minister 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. Only a
cross section of people in Kolkata are creating a ruckus over
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)