BENGAL POLITICS: Two funerals and a study in contrasts

BENGAL POLITICS: Two funerals and a study in contrasts – just goes to show that Bengal has double standards and is ‘very parochial and unjust’ even to its own most respected & renound bhadralok ?!!


Last rites of ex-CM of Bengal SS Ray, Pal at the Raiganj hospital on Sunday. (Nantu Dey) - most bare and barren, just another state dignitary passing on a most decent legacy not for emulation for India's welfare and interests ?!!



Nov 07, 2010: Both of them were barristers, both served as chief ministers of Bengal, both died in their 90s nine months apart, but the last journey of the two friends-cum-foes — Jyoti Basu and Siddhartha Shankar Ray — was a study in contrasts.

It was a tale of two funerals for Basu and Ray, courtesy the very different tracks taken by the state government.

A letter from the then chief secretary, Asok Mohan Chakrabarti, reached the Union home secretary, G.K. Pillai, a couple of hours after Basu’s death was announced on January 17, as the state government had requested the Centre for a two-day state mourning and a “military funeral”.


The stark contrast and the stark exposure ?!!

In the case of Ray — chief minister of Bengal between 1972 and 1977, governor of Punjab between 1986 and 1989 and India’s ambassador to the US between 1992 and 1996 — no such request was made and the pomp that marked the funeral of Communist leader Jyoti Basu was conspicuous by its absence.


“A request from the state government has to reach the Centre to arrange for a state funeral for someone who is not a natural recipient, according to the protocol manual. In this case, the state government did not send any such request,” said a senior official.


Jyoti Basu’s last journey - carrying the ever lasting legacy of the Butcher of the Darjeeling Gorkhas, 27th July 1986 forgotten so soon in Bengal ?!!

According to Bhaskar Khulbe, the resident commissioner of Bengal in Delhi, such request letters are routed through the office of the resident commissioner and he had passed on the letter from the state government to the Union home ministry after the death of Basu.


With the state government’s chalk-and-cheese response to the deaths of two former chief ministers, the difference between the two funerals — both of which ended with a three-volley salute by the Armed Police — was stark (see chart).

Ray’s last journey started from his Beltala residence around 1.20pm, reached the Assembly around 2.05pm, and touched Calcutta High Court and the Cricket Association Bengal office before heading for Chittaranjan Seva Sadan in Hazra. The procession reached the Keoratala burning ghat around 3.35pm where his nephew, Sanjit Ray, performed the last rites.


The infamous "Black Sunday" firing from the Kalimpong Than Dara on 27 July 1986 - 14 declared dead on arrival at the KPG Hospital, 5 more succumb to injuries, 1200 + killed or executed in false encounters after that day - Separatist Movement & insurgents declares Bengal ?!! (Himal News Archives)

“Jyotibabu’s body was draped in the national flag, but I didn’t see that on Siddharthababu’s body…. Even the army was not seen in today’s funeral procession,” said a Raj Bhavan employee.


Though the state government has declared a holiday on Monday as a mark of respect to Ray, the state will not be in mourning and the Tri-colour will flutter atop government buildings, as he was not given a state funeral.

“It’s really unfortunate that one of the tallest leaders (Ray) of Bengal was not given the honour of a state funeral…. If Jyotibabu could get it, why not Siddhartha Shankar Ray? Our leader was equally deserving as he held key positions like the governor of Punjab and the ambassador of India to the US,” said Bengal PCC leader and former party MP Pradip Bhattacharyya.

A senior state government official told Metro that the decision to send a request for a state funeral was the prerogative of the state home department, headed by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“The chief secretary can write to the Union home ministry for a state funeral only under instructions from the chief minister and it is clear that the state government was not interested in a state funeral for Ray,” he explained.

According to him, the no-show of any of the senior ministers at Ray’s Beltala residence on Saturday was an indication that the government wanted to keep the funeral a low-key affair unlike Basu’s final journey from the Assembly to Mohor Kunj.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose, however, visited Ray’s Beltala residence, along with some Left Front leaders and ministers on Sunday morning and later in the day Bhattacharjee paid homage at the Assembly.

“In the 1970s, Siddhartha Shankar Ray had unleashed terror in the state… He was one of the architects of the Emergency and had scant regard for democratic institutions. So, giving him a state funeral would have been equating him with Jyotibabu,” said a CPM leader, who did not wish to be named.

Ray was CPM’s biggest enemy in the turbulent 70s. Basu and the Left Front government had even set up the Haratosh Chakraborty commission to inquire into the 1972-77 administration’s “excesses’’ after Basu took over from Ray.

“The commission, set up by the CPM government, however found nothing against Siddharthababu. That’s why he used to say quite often that the CPM had failed to prove a thing despite setting up a commission,” said Bhattacharyya.

The difference in the two funerals will not be able to dwarf one of the most influential leaders of Bengal, said a young Congressman after the last rites were performed.



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