Kolkata: Siddhartha Shankar Ray, a veteran
Congressman and the last non-communist chief minister of West
Bengal 3 decades back, had courted controversy for his
tough handling of the Naxal movement in early 70s in the
During a public life spanning 6 decades, Ray(90), an
ex-Governor of Punjab and a former Ambassador to the US, was
also dogged by allegations by Left that he had advised Indira
Gandhi to impose Emergency in the country.
An erudite barrister, Ray remained a favourite whipping
boy of the Left parties which accused him of advising Gandhi
to impose the Emergency and suppressing political opposition
in West Bengal from 1972-77.
Born in 1920 to barrister Sudhir Kumar and Aparna Ray,
elder daughter of nationalist leader Chittaranjan Das, he was
educated in St Xavier`s School and Presidency College. Later,
he was called to the bar in England.
Returning to India, he began his career as a barrister in
the Calcutta High Court.
His political career started later when, with the help of
Congress leader Ashoke Kumar Sen, he became a cabinet minister
in the Bidhan Chandra Ray cabinet in West Bengal.
In 1960s, he shifted to Delhi and became a Union Cabinet
Minister for Education & Youth Services.
When Congress returned to power after the general
election of 1972, Ray became the chief minister of West Bengal
from March 19, 1972 to June 21, 1977.
Ray, who assumed office soon after Bangladesh Liberation
War, was faced with the problem of a million refugees in the
state but his government had performed this task with credit.
Ray`s success as chief minister was, however, clouded
by allegations that he had mooted the imposition of Emergency
in the country which was imposed by Gandhi, the then prime
minister in June, 1975.
He never gave a clear reply to this allegation but
had said in an interview to a magazine "I want to be clear on
this : I think the Emergency was perfect. But the excesses
were bad and nobody could stop it."
In that interview, he had said that he knew those who
were responsible for the excesses but declined to name them.
Ray had also remained ambiguous on the nature of the
excesses, saying that as chief minister of West Bengal he had
received reports that some men were subjecting women in the
villages to some `operation` -- an apparent reference to
Sanjay Gandhi`s population control drive.
It was during his tenure as chief minister that the
Naxalite movement, which began as a peasants` movement in
Naxalbari in north Bengal in 1967, gathered momentum by making
inroads among college and university students in the state.
Naxalite leader Charu Majumder`s doctrine of
annihilation of political opponents triggered off a killing
spree and spun off a culture of personal violence in the
Supported by a public rejection of Majumder`s
`annhilation line,` the West Bengal police under Ray could
effectively intervene in countering the Naxalites and bring
an end to the movement.
Frustrated, the Naxalites accused Ray of violating
their human rights.