Once more the professionalism of West Bengal police has come under the scanner and for the wrong reasons. Even normally, the sensational triple murder on October 8 of Bandhuprakash Pal, his wife and young son at their Jiaganj residence in Murshidabad district, would have launched an avalanche of protests in Bengal.
Violence-prone as the state has become in recent times, the brutal hacking of three people is not something to be easily glossed over. So far, the state police have arrested two persons (one of whom has allegedly already confessed) in this connection.
But given the broad sense of local media analysis, not many have been impressed by the performance of the police. People remain unconvinced that that the case has been solved.
As a former police high-up ruefully conceded during a recent chat show, “Sadly, the trust deficit between the force top brass and common people in Bengal increases by the day.”
The initial response of the district administration left much to be desired. For the first 72 hours after the incident, there was no word from district authorities regarding the probable cause of the gruesome killings, let alone any hint of possible suspects, their motives, political or financial. In the absence of any progress, even a brief message from the top, especially from the state’s not-exactly-reticent Chief Minister who holds the police portfolio, would have reflected official concern and intent.
In this case, there was nothing of the sort. The silence of Nabanna (Secretariat) was insensitive as well as offensive. Apparently the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) leadership is yet to learn the lessons of the recent 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning a vote share of 40 per cent is only 3 per cent behind the ruling party.
State BJP Chief Dilip Ghosh lost no time in claiming the deceased schoolteacher Bandhuprakash as “an RSS worker who had been killed by TMC hooligans”.
The TMC’s political reaction was predictable. Senior leaders alleged that there was no truth in the BJP claim. “It is political meddling at its worst,” said one. But the BJP was better prepared. The incident had occurred at a time when the party had already finalised and announced its plans to meet State Governor Jagdeep Dhankar and then President Ramnath Kovind to complain about the growing lawlessness in Bengal.
They cited stats about the number of BJP supporters and workers who had been killed mostly by armed TMC supporters in clashes all over Bengal. They had shown lists containing names and addresses of the victims. During the pujas, they had organised a symbolic holy ‘tarpan’ on the banks of the Ganga to pay-homage 80-odd people killed in such political violence. They had even brought the relatives of the victims along to attend the ‘tarpan’.
Apart from routinely dismissing the BJP’s claims, the ruling TMC did not bother to respond factually, by putting up any counter narrative.
At the administrative level, there was finally some action. A couple of CID men turned up to added muscle to the apparently feeble efforts made on the ground at Murshidabad to unravel what was turning into another great, unsolved mystery.
When officials finally began to speak, the fact they announced repeatedly and firmly was: “Bandhuprakash was not a member of the RSS or the BJP,” as if this declaration was enough to explain his death.
Among the TMC-ruled citizens in Bengal, general confusion prevailed. The victim could have been an RSS member/supporter — or perhaps not, but who could tell? Pal’s relatives denied that he had any political links.
But in Bengal’s violent political culture, such statements meant little. They could have been issued under threats. There had been too many such incidents in recent years. Intriguingly, Pal’s relatives pressed for an immediate CBI inquiry, not bothering to conceal their lack of faith in the state level investigations. Not good for the ruling TMC government.
Later the police arrested two men, as reported earlier. Both had had financial dealings with the victim. Of them, Utpal Behera, a mason who was arrested from Barala village from Sagardighi after two rounds of questioning, is reported to have confessed. He admitted killing all three, according to the police.
His reason? Pal, a teacher, also earned by acting as an insurance agent. Some time ago, Behera had paid him Rs 48,000 as premium for a policy. Pal had duly given him a receipt for Rs 24,000. However, Behera never received the receipt for the remaining amount, Rs 24,000 and therein lies the rub.
They had argued, Pal insulted Behera. The latter nursed his anger. On October 8, the dam burst, as armed with a sickle-like weapon, Behera went over to Pal’s house and angrily hacked away at everyone until he had killed them all. It had happened around midday.
According to the police, Behera insisted that it had taken him only ‘five minutes ‘to do the job, after which he walked away.
This version of the killings has been corroborated and repeated at press briefings by SP Mr. Mukesh Kumar. In other words, the great triple murder mystery has been all but solved. Only standard legal procedures need to be completed to enable the police to the matter under wraps.
With no disrespect to the police, the version of the murders has not been accepted as too convincing by people, including Pal’s relatives. Bandhuprakash’s father-in-law Sukhen Mondal, according to media reports, wonders whether anyone will kill someone just because he has not been given a receipt for Rs 24,000 in the year 2019, let alone massacre an entire family.
It remains for the Bengal police to answer such questions.