Two of the seven members that made up the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)’s committee to investigate allegations of post-poll violence in West Bengal had backgrounds in the BJP.
The committee’s report triggered a controversy after it expressed complete lack of faith in the state’s Mamata Banerjee government and made sweeping statements such as, “The entire might of the governmental machinery has been used (through innumerable acts of omission and commission) for furthering the political objectives of the party in power.” Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had called the report an example of the “BJP’s political vendetta.”
One of the members of the committee was Atif Rasheed, who at present serves as the vice-chairman of National Commission for Minorities. Rasheed has a background in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological and organisational parent of the BJP. He had a long association with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS, and served the organisation in various capacities such as vistarak (temporary whole-timer), joint secretary of Delhi unit and national executive committee member, between 1997 and 2004, following which he served at another RSS-backed organisation, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, for two years.
He also served as the president of Delhi BJP’s minority morcha and later its national executive member, as a national executive member of the BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), and contested the Delhi municipal elections in 2012 on a BJP ticket. His Twitter address till date is @AtifBjp.
The other person is Rajulben Desai, who is a member of the National Commission for Women since 2019. She had earlier served in the Gujarat BJP’s Mahila Morcha (women’s wing) and, in 2017, was one of the in-charge of Gujarat BJP’s Beti Bachao– Beti Padhao (Vadhao) project. Between 2017 and 2019, she also served as a member of Gujarat State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
While her bio on the website of NHRC does mention her involvement in the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao movement, it does not mention that it was a BJP project. However, the Gujarat BJP’s website mentions her and her personal website, too, refers to how her service in the BJP earned her praises from the party.
Speaking to Outlook over phone, Desai did not deny her background in the BJP.
“I am an academic first. I have been a law college principal currently on deputation at the NCW. The Gujarat BJP used me for their programmes related to women and children because of my expertise in this field. I think the NHRC chairman selected me for this committee because of my knowledge of legal affairs, especially in evidence gathering. Nevertheless, as an investigation committee member, I have been neutral and the committee members only adhered to the concept of natural justice,” she said.
Following a Calcutta high court order on June 18 directing the NHRC to form a committee to look into the allegations, NHRC chairperson, retired supreme court justice Arun Mishra, constituted the seven-member committee on June 21.
It was headed by Rajiv Jain, a former director of intelligence bureau, whom the Centre appointed to the NHRC as a member on June 2 this year.
Other members of the committee were NHRC’s director-general (investigation) Santosh Mehra, NHRC’s deputy inspector general (investigation) Manzil Saini, West Bengal state human rights commission’s registrar Pradip Kuman Panja and West Bengal state legal services authority member Raju Mukherjee.
Mehra is a 1987-batch IPS officer of Andhra Pradesh cadre and was serving as additional director general of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, a wing of the ministry of home affairs headed by Amit Shah, until being deputed to the NHRC on May 25 this year. Saini, an IPS of Uttar Pradesh cadre, has been deputed at the NHRC for several years now.
The two members from West Bengal are West Bengal Higher Judicial Service officer Pradip Kumar Panja, who serves as the registrar of West Bengal State Human Rights Commission and Raju Mukherjee, the member-secretary of State Legal Services Authority. Both hold high court-appointed posts.
Panja was an additional district judge at the 3rd Court, Suri, Birbhum district, before the high court transferred him to his present posting in 2017. Mukherjee, a West Bengal Judicial Services officer, was an additional district judge for Andaman and Nicobar, before being transferred to his present posting by Calcutta high court in February 2020.
The committee’s report, which was submitted before the Calcutta high court on July 12 and surfaced in public domain on July 15, has triggered a major controversy, as it expressed a complete lack of faith in the Mamata Banerjee administration. Later, the Bengal chief minister called the report “politically motivated.”
Arguing that the CBI, which operated under the Union ministry of home affairs, was a “neutral agency”, the commission recommended a CBI probe into the allegations of murder and rape, establishment of static central force pickets at sensitive villages and formation of a monitoring committee comprising officers from other states to ensure justice to the victims of political violence.
The report even listed some senior Trinamool Congress leaders, including minister Jyoti Priya Mallick, MLAs Partha Bhowmik, Saokat Mollah and Khokan Das, former MLA Udayan Guha and Mamata Banerjee’s chief election agent for Nandigram seat, Sk. Sufiyan, as “notorious criminals/ goons.”
Of them, Guha, who in fact had one of his hands broken following an attack on him by alleged BJP workers in Cooch Behar district, said, “We are not surprised with the NHRC’s report. The members came to serve the purpose of their political masters. I am a former MLA who came under attack four days after I lost the elections by a thin margin. I had to undergo operations and spend one month in hospitals. And now, I am being called a notorious criminal, while the committee members never spoke to me. They stand exposed.”
“Just look at the composition of the committee and everything will be crystal clear. Two of the members have backgrounds in the BJP, three are police officers appointed by the Centre and the two from West Bengal are high court appointees. The composition of the committee itself reflects the biased attitude of the NHRC towards the state government,” said a TMC Rajya Sabha MP who did not want to be named because the chief minister herself was dealing with the matter.
On Thursday, the Bengal chief minister said, "The BJP is now using impartial agencies to settle political scores and malign our state... What would you call it other than political vendetta of the BJP? It is yet to digest defeat (in the assembly polls) and that is why the party is resorting to such tricks."