Discussions on the release of political prisoners – Whose committee is it ?

July 4, 2011

July 4, 2011

[The following is a discussion stemming from the recent article by Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri, published in his regular column, concerning the demand for the release of political prisoners in West Bengal. – Ed]

What is this review committee about ?

by Ranjit Sur

Its almost one and half a month since a new government has been sworn in West Bengal under the leadership of Ms Mamata Banerjee. Yet, not a single political prisoner has been released, as promised . No one knows when and how they will get the much expected release or whether they will get it at all. Not a single case slapped on the political workers by the previous autocratic Left Front regime has been withdrawn. As a result hundreds of political workers are languishing in jails in inhuman conditions for years and thousands of political workers released on bails earlier are running from courts to courts for attending cases and thus ruined economically. Whenever or whoever in the new government is asked about their release and withdrawal of cases a patent answer comes ‘lets wait for the review committee report’. But what is this committee about ?

Following up on the decision taken by the Cabinet in its first meeting on 20th May, the new Mamata Banerjee Governement has notified in the Kolkata Gazatte the formation of the Review Committee for the release of Political Prisoners in West Bengal. The 4th June notification published the names of the 13 member committee along with the terms of reference. Retired Justice Moloy Sengupta of Kolkata High Court is the Chairman of the Committee. Out of the 12 others there are 4 IPS Officers and 2 IAS Officers. The IPS Officers are ADG(Law & Order), Special Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, Director of Prosecution and IG(Prison).The notification claimed to include 6 members as “ Representatives from Human Rights Organisation/Social Organisation/Legal Profession”.They are : Debabrata Bandopadhyay, Sujato Bhadra, Debashis Bhattacharjee, Rajdeep Majumdar, Subrata Hati and Ansar Mondal. But no names of the organizations are mentioned from where they are chosen. Last three named persons are all practicing lawyers close to the ruling parties. All the other members are close advisers of the Chief Minister. Only one of the members is a known Human Right activist . He too is selected in his individual capacity.

The terms of reference has 7 clauses. These are : 1) to identify the politically motivated FIR ; 2) to identify the under-trial political prisoners who have been undergoing trial for the offences pertaining to political movement as per section 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992; 3) to identify the persons who have been convicted for the offences pertaining to political movements as per section 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Services Act 1992 ; 4) to identify the nature/characteristics of the offences and the background leading to the commission of such offences ; 5) to examine the conduct of prisoners in the correctional homes ; 6) to ascertain the probability of their reverting back to the commissions of offences; 7) to examine the probability of instigating others to commit offences.

The Review Committee will have to submit its report within a period of three months from the date of the resolution.

The formation of the Review Committee clearly ignored the demand of the right bodies of the state for Unconditional Release of Political Prisoners. Now, selecting bureaucrats and the persons close to Chief Minister as review committee members even without consulting the Human Rights Organisations has made the concerned rights bodies very doubtful about the intention of the Government. Humiliating terms of reference forced all the bodies to hit the streets with mass programmes one after another against the new Government. APDR and Bandhi Mukhti Committtee wrote several letters to the Chief Minister seeking appointment for discussion. But received no response from the Government side.

Now, let us have some discussion regarding the terms of reference. The first three clauses mentioned the basic task of identifying the politically motivated FIRs and finalizing the list of political prisoners as per West Bengal Correctional Services Act 1992. But the subsequent four clauses are very objectionable to any rights activist. These clauses are added to divide the political prisoners according to Government’s plan. These clauses clearly indicate that the Government is planning to ask for an Undertaking from the Prisoners to be released. Clauses 6&7 are very humiliating and insulting as well as unconstitutional. These clauses will find whether the released prisoners will be involved in politics again or whether the released prisoners will influence others to join in their politics. Joining and preaching politics is ones fundamental right. So ascertaining their chance of joining politics again as a precondition of release or demanding undertaking of not doing politics of his choice or preaching to others is highly objectionable. In 1977 late Charan Singh, Home Minister of the then Janata Dal Government raised such a demand as a precondition for release of political prisoners. But a thunderous protest across the Nation forced him to withdraw the humiliating proposal. Now, the Mamata Banerjee government wishes to place the same demand through backdoor and that too with consent from a section of leading Human Right activists. This is alarming in all respects, particularly for the Human Rights Movement of the State in future. Moreover, the Committee will look into the behaviour of Prisoners inside the jail. History shows that the Political Prisoners always demanded their dues inside the jails and initiated movement against the jail authority for corruption and high handedness . So jail authority will never certify them of good conduct . Interestingly IG(Prison) against whom they fought will finally prepare the report and will judge the report as well as a Review Committee member . So what could be the outcome ? What is the intention of the Government ? Do the Government really want to release the political prisoners or just wish to release some persons of their choice to show that they kept their Election Promise ! This is the million dollar question hovering in the minds of every right activist of the state.

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June 12: Whose committee did we expect ?

by Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

I

The intervention of friend Ranjit Sur is welcome. Discussion is the way to achieve unity and the movement for the release of political prisoners must be united if the goal is to be reached and if our beloved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters are to be freed soon. There will be differences, but one should also judge carefully the pros and cons before talking to the commercial media about these differences (as has happened, not with Ranjit, though). And because we all want the same outcome, no-one should stay away from the movement.

Ranjit has no doubt seen that there is no difference between us as regards the unconditional (no discrimination on grounds of charges of violence, maoist or SUC, convict or UT) and universal (all prisoners classifiable as political according to sec 24 of the West Bengal correctional services act) nature of the release.

1. He objects to the title. Surely he knew when he wrote the rejoinder that there are voices in the movement which feel, “ What is there to talk about? Just free everyone.” On 7th June he must have heard those voices at the convention. The original article referred to this as an extreme view. Ranjit may not subscribe to this view, but the view is there, and the original article noted its existence.

2. One is disappointed with Ranjit’s second point which criticises the alleged idea that the Review committee “can be depended upon because the government has included two previous APDR secretaries….”. Who said anything about dependence? I wrote, “That the committee is not a mere eye wash is shown by the inclusion of the two previous general secretaries of the APDR most well equipped legally to face the police officials. “ To say that something is not mere eyewash only means that the committee has a real purpose for the government, and that purpose, it is written in the original article, is that, “ The government wants to free some prisoners to redeem the electoral promise, at least nominally,” so that, no-one can say that the government did nothing about prisoner release. Hardly an attitude of “depending upon” on the part of the author, especially as the real demand is immediately spelt out, “The people want to free all”. Sorry, Ranjit, it is not proper to put something which was not said into some-one’s mouth and then attack it.

3. Ranjit goes on to attack the politics of the two APDR secretaries. His attack borders on the personal, and this is the type of criticism which antagonizes instead of promoting self-criticism. Anyway, all that I meant (and said) was that these two persons are best equipped to fight the legal points which the IAS/IPS will raise.

II

Whose committee is it anyway? It is a committee of the TMC—INC government. Any expectation that it would be anything more was misconceived to start with. A government already committed to corporate investment will hardly form a people’s committee. But, at this point of time, it has certain populist compulsions, and, so, the people might be able to use the committee , albeit limitedly. But it is a government-nominated committee, not a people’s elected one.

Certainly we should criticise the composition. In fact, the non-inclusion of accredited representatives of rights organizations,(especially from the APDR and the BMC), is retrograde to Mamata Banerjee’s statement : “ the committee would have representation from human rights organisations, social bodies and the legal profession”( 5th June, The Hindu). But, at the end of the day, it is the level of the movement which will decide how far the government will re-consider. This will happen everywhere, not only on the question of prisoner release. The government will never form a committee on the basis of our approval. So, do we talk ever, on any subject?

Ranjit is a real life friend, too. Many are the miles we have walked together. I take the risk of his calling me a TMC stooge, and try to explain why I consider work inside the committee useful, although the people’s movement is the determinant.

In the ultimate step, the government will do what the IAS/IPS will represent to them as doable. It is much better that the latter place their objections before a public body so that these can be rebutted in front of every-one, instead of placing secret vetoes behind every-one’s back.

All political prisoners must be released. But, all political prisoners must be identified (only a few are now so designated ), and the lists submitted by the rights bodies will certainly be reviewed by the government (i.e. SB, IB) and it is much better that this be done in public view.

Certainly, demand representation of the rights bodies in the committee. There is no reason why the government cannot co-opt new members. These representatives (and I would add the names of the two controversial past secretaries of the APDR, not because I like their politics but because they would be of practical help) should sit regularly with activists of the movement so that they can struggle with the government on the different issues as they arise.

Sec 24(2) (c )& (d) are wide in scope and proper argument should compel the government to accept as political prisoners all names on a comprehensive list( this is why the terms of reference of the committee are not too important. In any case, the terms can be renegotiated if new representatives are added) . But, proper argument? Where will this argument with the government be conducted, recorded and resolved upon to be implemented? The commercial newspapers?

To end, let’s talk of something quite different. It is important for the lists to be finalised by the people of the relevant areas at public hearings. This is an important step of the movement and the only way of ensuring that the Harmad are not bracketed with political prisoners.

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June 10: Whose committee is it anyway ?

by Ranjit Sur

To begin with, the title of the Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri’s write-up on the release of political prisoners is objectionable – none of the organizations voicing the demand for the release ever refused to talk with the Chief Minister. The debate was whether we should stop all public agitations and wait for her to talk or we should hit the street with the demand of unconditional release along with the request for a date to talk. So the question of talk or no talk was never there and hence misleading.

Dipanjanbabu has two interesting observations which merits discussion. He said that the Review Committee (Commission?) formed by the State Government can be depended upon because the government has included two former APDR Secretaries who are very capable of fighting legal questions to be raised by the IAS/IPS members in the committee. Secondly, his theory is that we should fight inside the committees as well as mobilize public pressure through out the state – ie fight outside the committee.

Now, let us see whose committee is it anyway? Let us see who are the other committee members. As per order of the government, the Home Secretary, the IG (Law and Order), the IG (Prison) – at least three IPS officers will be in the committee. All three officers were important functionaries in the previous ‘Jangal Raj’ of the Left front Government. Particularly IG (Prison), BD Sharma, is famous for notorious activities. So the persons who are responsible for the arrest and torture will be the judges also! How funny! Next comes three members who are lawyers. All are very close to Trinamul Congress. Then there is Debabrata Bandhopadhya – the famous ex-IAS. These days, he is a TMC problem-shooter and figures in almost all government committees.

Regarding the presence of the two former Secretaries of the APDR – first of all, none of them are representing APDR or any other rights organization. APDR categorically announced that they have no representative in the committee. Now, what role can we expect from these two members? The older Secretary deserted APDR ages ago and performed excellently as the propaganda manger of the CPI(Marxist). Even during the Singur, Nandigram day, he was with CPM and led campaigns supporting all their misdeeds. He was a propaganda brain and face of the ruling party for at least 20 years and left completely on personal reasons. And now, he is a member of Chief Minister’s Secretariat at Writers Building by virtue of his being CM’s CA or political adviser. That means he is still with the government. Should we believe that a person who supported all the arrests and tortures of the Left Front government will now act for release of the persons who fought against it ? The period of his being a rights activist is far less than the period during which he was a CPM party activist. Now he is with theTMC Gov ! So how can we rely him or depend on him?

Let us come to the role of the second ex-Secretary of APDR in the committee. It is true that till few years back he was the Secretary of APDR and played a very important role in the development of the rights movement. But from the time of Lokh Sabha election, he gradually drifted towards TMC and has finally taken a very active role as planner and campaigner of the party and is now known as an intellectual close to TMC or the TMC-Cong Govt. Not only that, after the formation of the Govt., he began to supply arguments to the Govt. against release of Maoist prisoners in particular and raised the bogey of violence. On several occasions in public forum, he raised the question ‘how can the members of the banned Party be released ?’. This is totally unbecoming of a famous rights activist like him. It is the Govt’s duty to find ways. As we have seen in Singur land-refund case. No, it is not right to write him off totally at the moment. I personally wish him back as a leader in the rights movement resigning from the ill designed committee. But at the same time we should keep our fingers crossed because we know that ruling classes always try to purchase the best representatives of the peoples’ movement.

Finally, therefore, I have to say that the committee that Smt Mamata Banerjee formed cannot be relied upon.So the question of fighting inside the Committee does not arise at all. Members in the Committee are all Chief Minister’s men and political prisoners and their family cannot and should not have faith on them. It is a Committee for the TMC, by the TMC. So, the only option left to us, the rights workers, is to develop a mass movement across the state demanding IMMEDIATE AND UN-CONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS. This is the call of the times.

(The writer is a secretariat member of APDR . But opinions expressed in the article are his own and not that of the organisation.)

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Original article:

June 6: Release of Prisoners: To Talk or Not to Talk to Mamata Banerjee

By Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

A united front with a section of the dominant classes always presents trouble not only as regards when to engage and how, but also at the time of disengagement, when to do it, over what time span, and how. However may one deceive oneself, in the hustings just concluded, apart from a small minority, most of those in the democratic movement participated in one way or another in the grass roots united front of the people with the TMC to overthrow the fascist rule of the CPI(M). Now that the people have won, at least just at present, a victory against the immediate further penetration of the fascist hegemony of the CPI(M), democratic forces are debating disengagement.

The debate has begun on the question of the release of political prisoners, but it will spread all over all aspects of the democratic movement.

Let us look at the two extreme positions first :

1. Co-operate with the government in its efforts to keep electoral promises. Mobilisation of the people is secondary at this moment.

2. The government is there to serve the ruling classes. Its “efforts” are a sham, and only a people’s movement can free the prisoners. There is no question of co-operating with the government.

The task of the day is to rebuild the people’s movement, with special emphasis on the people’s movement in the jangal mahal. Chhatradhar received 20,000 votes, and this momentum must not be lost. There is still some momentum in civil society and this must be enhanced to build a Watch-dog (or Whip-lash as Sumanta Banerjee called it) movement, starting from a watch on corruption and the redemption of electoral promises. The release of political prisoners certainly merits first call as the movement rolls.

The size of the mandate has overwhelmed the TMC. It has prevented the party from becoming contemptuous of the masses as yet, and the government has started taking steps to keep electoral promises. Having said this, one stutters while looking for other words of appreciation. How are the promises being sorted? In every case, the policy dovetails with corporate aims, and the task of implementation devolve on ministers, officialdom, the police, and celebrities. There is no attempt to involve people in policymaking or implementation of policy. Advisory committees with wise celebrities are certainly not bad, but the path of Singur, Nandigram, and Lalgarh is the path of people’s committees.

The people of the areas of movement from which the prisoners have come, and the public at large who voted against the CPI(M) want the release of every one imprisoned by the CPI(M) for political reasons. The question of the release of the Harmad is a smokescreen, and this question, in fact, shows that the role of the people is cardinal. The real question is, Do the people of the region want the release of the Harmad? Old-timers will remember this was how the police were forced to arrest goondas under the “Goondas Act” in Kolkata, by public signature.

There must not be discrimination on the basis of charges of violence, judicial completion of conviction, and type of politics. Violence arises as the inevitable outcome of a suppression of democracy. If today’s government is pro-people it should not fear past violence. The CPI(M) released all prisoners with political tags. The TMC should not do less. The police, the IAS and the centre will oppose tooth and nail unconditional release. If the people are not mobilized (and not in Kolkata alone), how will this pressure be withstood ? Mobilisation is not secondary. Without people’s pressure how will the UAPA prisoners be freed? And those with life sentences?

But, the electoral promises, the large mandate, in which the working people provided the numbers, and the sensitivity of Mamata Banerjee to her popular base and popular opinion provide an interesting foil to corporate pressure. There is certainly something to be done in the committees to block the arguments of the police and the IAS and present counter-arguments to the government, and publicise the whole as a debate before the people. That the committee is not a mere eye wash is shown by the inclusion of the two previous general secretaries of the APDR most well equipped legally to face the police officials.

The government wants to free some prisoners to redeem the electoral promise, at least nominally. The people want to free all. So, there is both a space for talks and the need for struggle, that is, the struggle will have to be conducted both inside the committee and on the road.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Discussions on the release of political prisoners – Whose committee is it ?”

  1. Pradip Kar Says:
    June 20th, 2011 at 12:38

    Is New Govt.’s Integrity not better than before?

    In response to article written by Shri Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri where Mr. Ranjit Sur raise some doubts and questions regarding the set up of Review Committee for unconditional release of all political prisoners in West Bengal. In response to that I would like to say that Mr. Sur has shown his negative attitude very much towards the activities of new Govt. Can he recall when 34 yrs. Of Left rule in
    W.B. and that time almost no democratic space. People could hardly express their political views. This new alliance Govt. led by Trinamul Congress promised before election that they would do something and paved the way this situation. As a result they are trying now as their own. Different types of advisory committees are now being set up. It is known that the Trinamul Congress party is not a revolutionary Party and their class character inherited from Indian National Congress. But here it is to be keep in mind that at this moment this Party is not representing on behalf of big Indian Corporate or MNCs. In view of that their stands are somehow for the welfare of masses. At this juncture the Civil Society can avail the scope for bargaining with Govt. So, the representatives of Civil Society, he may be from APDR or outside APDR can easily fight for immediate release of political prisoners inside the Review Committee. And on outside public agitations may be continue with the above cited demand. Therefore, it is not a contradictory matter. If the members fail to perform their duties then only you can remarks which you already made in your letter. Before that it is a meaningless and baseless idea. Meanwhile, it is to be noted here that unconditional release of all political prisoner means we could not demand to release those prisoners who served the ruler’s interest earlier that is Nanur incident or harmad Tapn-Sukur etc. as an examples.

    (Pradip kar)
    Human Rights Activist
    Kolkata
    askpradipkar[at]gmail[dot]com

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