Chidambaram, Buddhadeb in a war of words, literally

December 30th, 2010 - 4:04 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram By Pradipta Tapadar
Kolkata, Dec 30 (IANS) What’s in a word, one might wonder! But union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s choice of a word derived from a foreign lingo in his recent letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has sparked off a controversy, raising questions of propriety over its usage in an official communication.”There is evidence to show that Harmad camps are mostly located in CPM party offices and houses of local CPM cadres. It is a matter of grave concern that these cadres have been provided with firearms,” Chidambaram wrote in his letter.

By the word ‘harmad’, derived from the Spanish word ‘armada’, the home minister was in his missive to the chief minister referring to armed cadres of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) housed in camps in the state’s Maoist infested areas.

‘Armada’ denotes a Spanish fleet sent to invade England in the 16th century to overthrow the British monarchy and capture the isles.

In Bengali, the word refers to Portuguese pirates of the 17th century who often plundered villages and took away prisoners to sell them off as slaves.

In recent times, the word appeared in an anti-Left newspaper that used it to describe what it called “goons backed by the CPI-M”. Since then, various media and opposition parties - particularly the Trinamool Congress - have been using the word liberally to denounce the Marxist party.

An angry Buddhadeb translated the word as “hired killers” in his hard-hitting reply to Chidambaram’s missive. “I strongly object to your using the word ‘harmad’ (hired killers) to mean the CPI-M party workers without knowing the meaning of the nasty word coined by Trinamool Congress leaders”.

On the other hand, Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee stood by Chidambaram.

” ‘Harmad’ means a bandit. How else do you describe those who wield guns, kill people and violate modesty of women?” Banerjee asked.

But Left Front partners are up in arms.

“It is shameful… A union home minister cannot use such words,” said Manju Kumar Majumdar, state secretary of Communist Party of India (CPI).

“I am not at all amazed by such selection of words and partisan approach by the union home minister. Trinamool gave them full support in 2G spectrum scam and Commonwealth Games scam. Now it was time for the Congress to pay heavy tips to the Trinamool,” Forward Bloc leader Naren Chatterjee told IANS.

Political columnists say words like ‘harmad’ in such correspondence could strain centre-state relations and there was a possibility of overstepping limits of constitutional decency.

“If the word is used within inverted comas then we have to understand that it’s not his word, it’s a regular word which has been used. If inverted commas are not used, then I must say that the limits of constitutional decency has been crossed,” Professor Samir Kumar Das told IANS.

“It will strain relations between state and centre,” Das added.

But state Congress president Manas Bhunia differed.

” ‘Harmad’ is not an unconstitutional word. There are books containing the list of unconstitutional words in libraries housed in parliament and state assemblies. One can go through such books to clear their confusion. I have done so, and did not find the word,” said Bhunia.

However, this is not the first time that Chidmabaram and Buddhadeb have clashed over semantics.

In April this year, Bhattacharjee took exception to the home minister’s use of the word ‘buck’ to remind the chief minister of his responsibility to check inter-party political clashes.

“Eventually, the buck stops at the chief minister’s table. It should not go beyond his table. If the buck goes beyond the chief minister’s table, then that shows the failure of the state,” Chidambaram had said.

“I know the responsibility is mine, no doubt, but the language is not good. It (buck) is a slang. Such language is not used by politicians.,” Bhattacharjee had countered.

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at pradipta.t@ians.in)

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