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Lalgarh crisis: Former Bengal CM writes to Chidambaram

November 30, 2009 16:38 IST

Former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray has written to Home Minister P Chidambaram suggesting the central government involve social bodies for the welfare of the Lalgarh residents reeling under acute poverty and underdevelopment.

He said the government must begin a process of development involving social bodies, non-governmental organisations, engineers, developers and architects.

"No political party, be it the ruling force or the opposition, should be included in the process. I would suggest in my letter that no political party will be invited to resolve the matter," Ray said.

"I still believe that deployment of joint forces cannot solve such a socio-economic problem. It can only be resolved through vibrant development works in the region," the former governor of Punjab and Indian ambassador to the US added.

Ray writing to Chidambaram on the Lalgarh issue is of immense political significance as the former West Bengal chief minister had played a prominent role in countering the Naxal Movement in Bengal in the 1970s.

The contents of the letter, a copy of which is available with rediff.com, are given below:

November 23, 2009

Dear Chidambaram,

This has reference to our telephonic conversation a few days ago regarding the horrendous situation in Bengal today concerning our tribals. I knew you would be very stern in this matter as you always had been in other matters. We had worked in many a matter together in Delhi, Punjab and the United States and I had noticed your determination. I had the fullest confidence in you and still have.

I appreciate the difficulties faced to proclaim any declaration under Article 356 of the Constitution. It is difficult to do so because you have no majority in the Rajya Sabha and as the law stands today you cannot without the assent of both the Houses have any declaration under Article 356 of the Constitution.

You perhaps remember I had asked you to consider Article 355 of the Constitution as well. I am sure this is being done. But may I make some suggestions that I feel could be examined.

We are in a rather difficult and dangerous situation in Bengal today. The districts at present affected are West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia -- only three. But if things are allowed to continue as they are, many other districts are likely to be in the same precarious position.

I am of the view, rightly or wrongly, that heavy police action by itself can never solve the problems we face today.

For decades, there was hardly any development in our large tribal areas, as a result there is tremendous apathy and anger among our tribals today. This angry mood of the tribals has afforded a glorious opportunity to the violent wrongdoers to arouse the tribals and thereby cause tremendous internal disturbance, at present, particularly in the districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura.

There can be, in fact, no doubt of the existence of this frightful internal disturbance in our state.

Article 355 of our Constitution makes it a mandatory duty of the Union to protect states against internal disturbance. It is well established that a constitutional mandate has to be observed as strictly as possible and there is no way of getting out of it. Adherence to a constitutional mandate is compulsory and Article 355 of the Constitution of India prescribes a very clear mandate for the Union of India.

For ready reference, I am quoting Article 355 of the Constitution of India:

'355. Duty of the Union to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance -- it shall be the duty of the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.'

Since there is a frightful disturbance at least in the three districts of West Bengal today, it is necessary to remove the disturbance before it spreads to other districts. Before we could remove the disturbance, one has to find out what was the reason for the disturbance. It has been widely held that the principal and main reason for the disturbance is the total lack of development for decades in these tribal areas. Wrongdoers have taken advantage of this by propagating amongst the people by saying that India does not care for the 'Adivasis' although they are in fact the original indigenous inhabitants of India.

To find out the reason, a fact-finding body has to be decided upon. This body cannot be the West Bengal government. Believe you me, the people of these districts and perhaps others have lost total trust and confidence in the West Bengal government particularly in Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (although he may be a good man) because of his numerous follies. No minister in Bengal or anybody from the West Bengal government can even go today to these three districts or to any other district – village wise to find out what development requires to be done immediately.

Such a body in my opinion, therefore, has to be appointed by the Union and should be a totally independent body with members of organization like the Rama Krishna Mission, Bharat Sevashram Sangha and similar social service bodies such as the Catholic, Protestant and Musilim social service bodies and so on. There are also some fine, honest and hard working NGOs in Bengal, who may also be considered to do the work if asked. Also the body selected should include some of our finest and efficient independent engineers, developers, technicians and intellectuals.

What should this body do? Firstly, ascertain the nature of the development immediately required, and secondly, to execute the necessary development.

There should be no politician from the Right, Left or Centre, in fact no one from any political party ought to be included in this body.

For the purpose of selecting this body, an energetic and fairly senior minister or two from the Centre should come here. Once these two ministers are nominated, they should immediately come to Kolkata and make all necessary enquiries about the bodies or people, who should go into the action committee. Thereafter, the ministers should preside over the first meeting of this action committee and tell the action committee what necessary steps have to be taken immediately, namely, first to find out what vast and vibrating development requires to be done which would have a real impact on the people and secondly to actually arrange for the execution of the development work immediately.

A lot of money will be required for this purpose, which the Union government should pay and control in the first instance. Once in my view this is done, the Union will be successful in carrying out its mandatory duties under Article 355 of the Constitution.

Please look into this matter very seriously for we must not tarry as the situation is becoming worse and worse everyday.

Bengal is not yet dead. She has numerous brilliant, qualified, honest and intelligent men and women, who will rise to work hard to solve this horrendous problem.

I write this because I know you can do it and you will do so.

Best wishes,

Yours affectionately,

Siddhartha Shankar Ray
Indrani Roy Mitra in Kolkata