The politics over the release of political prisons, if a new party comes to power, has surfaced once again in West Bengal, where crucial assembly elections will be held in April-May next year.
This time, the promise to release political prisoners was made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has emerged as the primary challenger to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government.
On Sunday, Dilip Ghosh, the head of the BJP’s Bengal unit, announced at a public rally in East Midnapore district that the party would withdraw cases against political prisoners belonging to any party, including the TMC.
“We will withdraw all false cases lodged against political prisoners. Not just cases, which have been lodged against BJP workers, but we will also withdraw cases, which have been filed to falsely implicate Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress workers. We will even withdraw cases, which have been lodged against some TMC supporters to prevent them from quitting the party. A decision will be taken in the first cabinet meeting after the BJP comes to power in Bengal,” said Ghosh.
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The BJP is pinning its hopes on unseating the TMC government in the next year’s assembly polls for the 294-member Bengal legislative assembly on the back of its impressive gains in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
The BJP had won 18 out of 42 Lok Sabha (LS) seats last year.
Human rights activists said that in 1977, when the Left Front government came to power for the first time, a decision to release political prisoners was taken in the first cabinet meeting, headed by the then chief minister Jyoti Basu.
In February 2011, Mamata Banerjee before coming to power had made a similar pledge of freeing political prisoners.
Later in May 2011, when her party came to power, she constituted a 13-member committee to review the process of releasing political prisoners.
The committee was notified in the Kolkata Gazette on June 4.
“Even though the Left Front government had withdrawn cases against political prisoners, the TMC government didn’t. In 2011, there were around 200-odd prisoners with the status of political prisoners. Only those who got bail or were released by the court were set free. Later in 2013, the TMC government changed the definition of political prisoners which makes it all the more difficult for such inmates to be released,” said Ranjit Sur, a central secretariat member of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), a human rights body.
The TMC government had prepared a list of 52 prisoners, who were to be released in 2011 based on the recommendations of the review committee.
But later the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had cautioned the Bengal government against the release of inmates, who owed their allegiance to the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist).
However, some Maoist leaders were released following their acquittal.
The ruling TMC took a dig at the BJP over Ghosh’s announcement.
However, TMC leaders refused to make any comment on the proposed bid by the opposition party to release political prisoners and cited that it was the CM’s prerogative.
“Ghosh is trying to send a message to all anti-social elements and has urged them and their associates to vote for the BJP in a bid to come to power. This is unconstitutional and illegal. The BJP is day dreaming of coming to power,” said Saugata Roy, a TMC Member of Parliament (MP), who represents the Dum Dum constituency in the LS.
Congress leader in the LS, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, and Left Front legislature party leader in the Bengal assembly, Sujan Chakraborty, lashed out at the BJP and called out the latter’s poll gimmicks in a bid to corner some additional votes in what promises to be a keenly contested assembly election.