S.S. Ray accorded a state funeral

Sunday, November 7, 2010

KOLKATA - Hundreds of mourners from all walks of life Sunday bid a tearful adieu to former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray whose body was cremated with full state honours here.

Ray, 90, who is believed to have drafted the declaration of Emergency in 1975 and subsequent legislations, was cremated at the Keoratala burning ghat. He died at his south Kolkata residence Saturday evening following renal failure.

At the crematorium, the body was taken from the cortege and placed on a high platform by police personnel in a slow march. The last post was sounded, and a guard of honour and a gun salute was presented part of an emotive farewell before the funeral pyre was lit by Ray’s nephew. The cremation took place close to the spot where Ray’s grandfather, legendary freedom fighter Chitta Ranjan Das was cremated.

Ray, a noted barrister, had distinguished himself as the Indian ambassador to the US between 1992 and 1996.

Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who planned the last journey in consultation with Ray’s family, walked at the forefront of the funeral procession all through.

Ray successfully but controversially crushed the Left extremists, called Naxalites - proponents of a violent agrarian revolution - first as union minister in charge of West Bengal in 1971 and then as chief minister from 1972-1977. He had been backing Banerjee over the last few years in her struggle against the ruling Left Front.

Ray’s body was taken from his Beltala residence a little after 1 p.m. and put in a hearse which wound its way through the city roads going past the state assembly, the Calcutta High Court, the Cricket Association of Bengal headquarters at Eden Gardens, and the Chittaranjan Seva Sadan.

At the assembly, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, his ministerial colleagues, Pradesh Congress president Manas Bhunia, and a large number of MLAs, including Ray’s one-time ministerial colleague Gyan Singh Sohanpal, paid their tributes. Ray was an MLA for various terms between 1957 and 1992.

Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) chief and former International Cricket Council (ICC) president Jagmohan Dalmiya led a large assembly of cricket club officials in offering floral tributes at the Eden Gardens.

An avid sportsman since his young days, Ray was a rare ‘Triple Blue’ of Calcutta University representing the famous institution in cricket, tennis and football. He also was CAB president from 1982-83 to 1985-86.

Union ministers Sougata Roy and Mukul Roy, and Kolkata Mayor Sobhan Chattopadhyay were among those accompanying the cortege that traversed the southern and central parts of the city amidst slogans of “Siddhartha Ray amar rahe” as Trinamool and Congress flags flew at half mast.

The mourners, including a large number of commoners, also sang devotional songs, some of them composed by Rabindranath Tagore.

At various points on the route there were banners saying “Siddhartha Shankar loho pranam” (Siddhartha Shankar - we pay our obeisance).

In the morning, Left Front leaders visited Ray’s residence and garlanded his body. The delegation included Left Front chairman and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary Biman Bose, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader Kshiti Goswami and representatives of other front partners.

A colourful personality, Siddhartha Ray was one of the close advisors of then prime minister Indira Gandhi and one of the architects of the Emergency declared on June 25, 1975. He is credited with drafting the letter to then president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to issue the proclamation for the Emergency. The excesses during the Emergency led to the Congress being voted out from the central government for the first time in 1977.

A tough administrator, Ray finished off the Naxalite movement with a iron hand but there also were widespread allegations then of fake killings of bright young men by the security forces.

At the height of the Khalistan uprising in Punjab, Ray was posted as the state governor in 1986 and aided by super cop K.P.S. Gill succeeded in vastly weakening the terrorist movement.

As ambassador to the US, he put business firmly on the forefront of the India-US mutual agenda and also formed the India Group in the House of Representatives, besides engaging a firm of lobbyists to protect and promote India’s interests.

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