April 18, 2014
First person account of the fire in WB CM`s hotel room in Maldah
This is the first person account of Ashok Majumdar, a photojournalist with a leading Bengali daily, who was just two rooms away when fire broke out in the CM`s hotel room.
Translated from an article published in Ebela on 18th April, 2014
It was 6.30 PM. I was working on my laptop, transferring the pictures I had taken during the day. Suddenly, the lights in my room went off and in a flicker of a second were on again. I heard a loud noise. And then, I heard Joydeep (personal assistant of Didi) screaming, “Mithun da, Madan da, where are you all. There`s a fire. Save Didi.”
I was staying at room number 202 on the 1st floor, two rooms away from where the Trinamool Chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister was taking rest. For a moment I did not understand that the loud noise had come from Trinamool Chairperson`s room. The moment I rushed out of my room, I saw Ms. Banerjee. She was shaken and was coughing. A blanket was wrapped around her. Despite her trauma, she inquired about others, wanting to know if everyone else was fine.
In the meantime, Madan Mitra, the State Transport Minister and Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP Mithun Chakraborty had arrived. So did Virendra, the Director of Security, Jayanta Shah, the Officer on Special Duty, Kusumkumar Dwivedi and Swarup Goswami, who were in charge of the Chief Minister`s security. Madan Mitra and Mithun tried to enter the CM`s room, but came out immediately. The smell of a pungent gas had a sickening effect and everyone started coughing in tandem.
After the rallies at Habibpur, Malatipur and Harishchandrapur, we had checked in at the hotel at around 6:10 PM. Like every other day, the CM enquired about the well-being of everyone and retired to her room. Joydeep was sitting in the drawing room while the CM was in the washroom. I spoke to Joydeep who let me know that suddenly there was a loud noise from the air-conditioning system in the bed room and the room was engulfed with thick smoke. The CM immediately screamed to alert everyone and Joydeep rushed to save her with a blanket, which was lying close by.
The Transport Minister alerted the local police and the fire brigade. When I entered the room later, I could see that CM`s bag was lying on the bed while her towel was on the wash basin of the washroom. The whole room was in a disheveled condition. The CM had been taken to an adjoining room. Her eyes were still watery because of the smoke. She had thrown up once and was still sick. Despite her illness, she kept inquiring about others. The doctors arrived and started her treatment; they advised her not to speak any more.
The Transport Minister remarked that the CM has been saved by the blessings of the people. He alleged that there was a larger conspiracy to kill the Chief Minister. In the meantime, the police spoke to the hotel management and sealed the room where the accident happened. A fire attendant I spoke to said that had the CM stayed in the room any longer, she would have fainted.
Around 9 PM at night, I visited the Chief Minister in her new room. She still had breathing problems. She was being administered oxygen from cylinders. She spoke to me in a weak voice. She lamented why such accidents always happen with her. She believes that God saved her.
Image: Personal belongings of the Chief Minister in the hotel room.
Inset: Police investigating the cause of the fire