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Belligerent Buddhadeb

Belligerent Buddhadeb

Publication: Organiser
Date: November 23, 2003

Introduction: West Bengal journalists pushed to wall by Marxist government

The dull redbrick Writers' Buildings, the administrative headquarters of the West Bengal Government in Kolkata, is at present the scene of belligerency between the media persons and the ruling Marxist Government in the State. The media exposure about the death of a six-month-old infant and a 21-year-old girl due to inhuman behaviour of a section of Government doctors and health staff of the city's two major hospitals in a quick succession during the last week of October led to a major running battle between the Marxist Government and the press with no signs of any immediate truce.

The high profile Chief Minister of the State, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has imposed a total ban on journalists entry inside all Government hospitals in the State in order to prevent media exposure on the fast deteriorating health care services. The police pickets are posted in Government hospitals to stop the entry of 'unwanted press reporters and photographers in the hospitals. The CPI(M) cadres armed with sticks are roaming free inside the major State-run hospitals to unleash a reign a terror so that no one can dare protest against apathetic conditions in hospitals. When reporters and photographers of TV news channels went to cover the agitation of junior doctors in Kolkata's R.G. Kar Hospital on November 2, they were beaten up mercilessly by armed Marxist workers. Junior doctors in the hospital were protesting against the assault of a doctor by a powerful local CPI(M) leader and his armed associates inside the children ward of the hospital previous night.

The unprovoked assault by Marxist goons, aided and abetted by policemen, virtually stunned the newsmen irrespective of their political allegiance. Alarmed by the sharp reactions in all sections of the press and trade union bodies of the journalists, the Chief Minister sought the assistance of the Kolkata Press Club to prepare a code of conduct for the journalists to regulate their entry in Government hospitals and all State administrative offices in the city. The Press Club convened a meeting of its members on November 5 to discuss the issue suggested by the Chief Minister, which was turned into a virtual battleground with verbal duel between members of the executive committee and ordinary members of the club. Journalists belonging to print and electronic media present at the meeting on the day condemned the representatives of the club unequivocally for convening the meeting to formulate code of conduct just to oblige the high-profile Chief Minister.

"Remember, Kolkata Press Club is not the extension of the CPI(M)'s headquarters in Alimuddin Street or Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's Writers' Buildings. Journalists are not party cadres. Let the Government impose ban on the movement of media persons and we know how to fight it out. So long as our readers and viewers have faith and trust on our reports, we don't care what the Chief Minister says or does", the members told the Press Club authorities. The firework started when a journalist of regional Bengali Daily, Bartaman, reminded the journalist members various incidents when the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government had punished media persons following exposures about corruptions or anti-people activities. Most of the speakers at the meeting were unanimous that the CPI(M)led State Government's attitude towards the press had changed sharply since the publication of the Bengal Lamp scandal involving the former Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu, and his son, Chandan Basu. The scandal not only led to the sacking of the then PWD Minister, Jatin Chakraborty, for leaking out official papers about under-the-table financial deals by Basu. It also strained the relations with the media. Speakers reminded that it was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who had ordered to demolish the age old press corner in Writers' Buildings in January 1992. It was the same person who had blamed the reporters and photographers when they were beaten up by some Government employees owing allegiance to the CPI(M)-affiliated Coordination Committee for State employees inside - Writers' Buildings. The media persons covering the State Secretariat took pictures of a meeting organised by the Coordination Committee inside Writers' Buildings during the office hours. The incident occurred soon after Bhattacharjee took the chair of the Chief Minister and assured the people of a new work culture. Turning 180 degree Bhattacharjee accused journalists of visiting the place of the meeting in Writers' Buildings canteen hall uninvited. "Why you people loiter in the corridors of Writers' Buildings every day with motives to find out faults of our loyal employees?", the Chief Minister asked journalists when they went to him to complain, However, Bhattacharjee was kind enough to arrange medical treatment for injured scribes.

The demolition of press corner by Bhattacharjee, who was then the information and cultural affairs minister, was the first red signal hoisted by him to warn the media that he knew how to tackle the 'unfriendly' press. Attacks on journalists in West Bengal continued since then. It was literally four-hour black-hole experience for the twenty-two journalists who went to cover the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia's arrival at the Kolkata airport on May 28, 1992. Journalists with valid entry passes were detained inside a locked room by the police for over two hours and released only after the departure of Begum Zia. Two reporters and a photographer of Hindi daily Jansatta were severely beaten up by the CPI(M) supporters inside ESI hospital in Gourhati, Hooghly, following reports about corrupt practices by some hospital staff on May 23, 1992. Two lensmen were beaten up at the State Electricity Board office in Salt Lake in the eastern suburbs of Kolkata on August 19, 1992 following press criticism about daily power cuts. These incidents and many others were the direct fallouts of the confrontations between the press and the Left Government after the demolition of press corner in Writers' Buildings.

When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over the reign of the State administration in May 2001, he immediately imposed ban on the entry of accredited journalists travelling in cars inside the Assembly building premises on security reasons. The ban is still in vogue and journalists have to get down outside the Assembly building gates and they walk down at least 100 meters long open passage to enter the building during the rains and hot humid summers to cover proceedings of the House. No doubt, the main objective is to humiliate newsmen as the ban on the entry by car inside the Assembly premises is imposed only on the press and not on MLAs and their visitors.

The prestigious Jnanpeeth award winning poet and a noted Left intellectual Subhas Mukhopadhyaya, who died recently at a city nursing home after the city's SSKM hospital had left the poet virtually unattended, in a statement said before his death, "The truth is that press reports are now more credible to public than what the Government says. Newspapers today are acting as a mirror in reflecting the true image of our society. I congratulate press reporters and lensmen for their courageous attempt at exposing the fascist nature of the present rulers of West Bengal."

The net result, the Government withdrew medical treatment to the ailing poet admitted in the SSKM hospital silently and left the poet to die unattended. It was Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee who had shifted the poet from the SSKM hospital to a private nursing home to provide at least some solace to the dying poet and his grieved family members. (VSK)

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