The recent arrest of a university professor in the Indian state of West Bengal for forwarding a political cartoon targeting the state's Chief Minister has shocked the public as well as the political parties across the spectrum.
Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor of the Department of Chemistry at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, was put behind the bars, late Thursday for forwarding emails with cartoons mocking Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other top leaders from the ruling Trinamool Congress party, Indian media reported.
The cartoon, which has been shared over email and social networking sites for weeks, led to the arrest of Mahapatra when a Trinamool Congress member filed a complaint against the 50-year-old professor and his 75-year-old neighbor Subratra Sengupta, who is a cardiac patient, for maligning Banerjee and her loyal aid and the Union railway minister Mukul Roy.
The cartoon, based on the recent incident of the removal of railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to be replaced by Banerjee loyalist Roy, doesn't distort the images of Banerjee or her ministers, or use even a mild expletive.
Mahapatra, charged with defamation, insulting the modesty of a woman and using a computer or communication device to spread false information, was granted bail at the police station following the arrest. However, the police, allegedly under orders from the state administration, literally dragged the accused to appear in front of a court Friday which further fuelled the public outrage.
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Intelligent people should use their intelligence for doing good. Instead, they are using it to conspire against me, Banerjee said referring to Mahapatra's arrest.
Banerjee's political opponents and allies slammed her over the arrest while Kolkata's intelligentsia, who had been supportive of Banerjee, expressed shock and outrage.
It shows lack of patience of the state government which has poor knowledge that everyone has the right of expression, leader of the opposition and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) member Suryakanta Mishra said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president Rahul Sinha said that no political party took any action against any cartoonist in the past, despite several instances of dangerous cartoons published against Indian leaders Indira Gandhi, A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Jyoti Basu. Are we really heading for a party-sponsored emergency? Sinha said.
Banerjee's ally Congress has joined the opposition in criticizing her action, saying that the West Bengal government is setting a dangerous trend of silencing cartoonists.
Trinamool Congress leader Kabir Suman said he is quite surprised, and amazed, referring to the incident. The government of West Bengal is suffering from paranoia and a persecution mania. The moment she became the Chief Minister of Bengal, it seems that she is scared and afraid when she has no reason to be so, Suman said in an interview with CNN-IBN.
Economist Abhirup Sarkar whom Banerjee appointed as the chairman of the expert committee on higher education said, I earlier did not want to use the word scary but I have to admit this scares me.
Renowned social activist and writer Mahasweta Devi called Banerjee's act shameful.
Meanwhile, the student fraternity of Kolkata rose up in protest against Banerjee's repressive antics. This is a step towards curbing people's democratic rights and, as students, we could not sit back and see the arrest of our professor for such a lame reason, Kaushik Baidya, a student of International relation at Jadavpur University, told the Hindustan Times.
The Chief Minister would dictate which news papers to read at libraries and get professors arrested for nothing, but we would not tolerate this, Sainik Sur, a student protestor from the university, said.