In a shocking sign of the worsening political climate in West Bengal, Tapas Pal, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) member of Parliament, reportedly made a public speech threatening his political opponents with “rape” and death. While his party has distanced itself from his remarks, it has not yet taken any action against the MP.
Pal allegedly told a workers’ meeting a few weeks ago: "If any rival touches any Trinamool woman, father or child, then I will ruin his entire family. I will unleash my boys, they will commit rape. Yes, they will commit rape.”
He was speaking in Chowmatha village in Nadia district after receiving reports of an attack on a woman and a child who are Trinamool supporters.
"If anybody dares to touch our supporters, I will come and shoot them myself. Let them stop me if they can," the MP allegedly threatened.
His speech was apparently recorded on a mobile phone and emerged only on Monday when it was aired on Bengali news channels.
Political parties and women’s groups were quick to criticize Pal’s remarks.
"The sort of adjectives Pal used are usually heard on the lips of anti-socials. We just can't imagine any man in his senses would utter such words," CPI(M) state secretariat member Rabin Deb told the Hindustan Times.
Pal, on his part, claimed that he never used the word rape. "What I said was I will tell my workers to raid," the Press Trust of India quoted him as saying. But in the video clip he is clearly heard using the word rape.
Pal is an award-winning actor of Bengali cinema and was re-elected for his second term as parliamentarian in May.
TMC, the ruling party in West Bengal, tried to contain the negative public reaction by agreeing that Pal’s remarks were “utterly insensitive”, but nevertheless gave him 48 hours to provide an explanation for his conduct.
Pal subsequently sent a letter to the party: "Some remarks made by me in the heat and dust of the election campaign have caused dismay and consternation. I apologise unreservedly for them”.
This ‘apology’ did not convince everybody.
"It is the vilest statement one can imagine. However, coming from a Trinamool MP it is not surprising as the chief minister herself wants to settle rape complaints with money," state BJP president Rahul Sinha said.
West Bengal has suffered a deteriorating law and order problem since TMC’s Mamta Banerjee won the state assembly election in 2010 and swept to power. There have been attacks on women and violent clashes with political opponents, yet Banerjee often dismisses these incidents as conspiracies by opposition parties.
On Tuesday, the Chief Minister said her party MP Tapas Pal had committed a "big blunder", but his "unconditional apology" should end the controversy.
"We condemn Pal's statements. He was asked to apologise. He did that…What else do you want me to do, kill him?" she asked reporters.
Pal may find national institutions not so forgiving. The National Commission for Women said it would initiate action against him for his remarks.
"He has insulted women of the entire country. Immediate action should be taken against him. He should be arrested and asked to resign," chairperson Mamta Sharma said on Monday.