With the West Bengal panchayat elections drawing close, political violence in the state has been on the rise. Almost all Opposition parties, including the BJP, the Congress and the CPI(M)-led Left Front, have accused the ruling All India Trinamool Congress of intimidating, beating up and even killing their candidates and supporters. Reports have poured in from various districts that candidates could not file their nominations in the face of fear, threats and violence.
There have been fingers of accusations raised at the state police too. Opposition parties have again and again accused the policemen of behaving like mute spectators or of tacitly supporting the hooligans owing allegiance to the state’s ruling party. Mediapersons took out a silent protest rally in Kolkata on Wednesday, against the recurrent attacks on them during the nomination filing stage.
Voting for the panchayat polls will take place in three phases between May 1 and May 5; the votes will be counted on 8 May. Rural Bengal will elect their representatives to 48,650 gram panchayat seats, 9,217 panchayat samiti seats and 825 zilla parishad seats. There are 50.8 million voters in West Bengal.
Political violence during panchayat elections is not new to the state. In every panchayat election in the state since 2003, thousands of seats have been won uncontested by the ruling party of the day and opposition candidates have been threatened, beaten up or killed to ensure the same.
It seems that the number of uncontested seats this time will exceed the record high of 2003, when the CPI(M)-led Left front won 6,800 seats uncontested.
In the 2013 panchayat elections, AITC had won 6,274 or 10.66% of the seats uncontested.
While Mamata Banerjee’s administration has done commendable work at the grassroot level, with special emphasis on road building and connectivity, regularisation of the PDS-ration system, opening of tertiary health centres, etc., it would have been wiser for Banerjee’s party workers to go to people with their basket of achievements rather than to threaten candidates, and take part in wanton violence
Although the culture of retributive violence is not a Trinamool Congress invention, the state had hoped for a change when it voted the party to power with overwhelming majority in 2011. But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has not been able to control this culture of political violence.
While her administration has done commendable work at the grassroot level, with special emphasis on road building and connectivity, regularisation of the PDS-ration system, opening of tertiary health centres, implementation of NREGA, etc., it would have been wiser for Banerjee’s party workers to go to people with their basket of achievements rather than to threaten candidates, and take part in wanton violence.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front made the same mistake, specially since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as the state’s Chief Minister. They had to pay a major price for that arrogance. They got disconnected from the people.
However, the circumstance of Mamata Banerjee is possibly more critical for the future of the state of West Bengal. Today, the RSS-BJP combine is emerging as the second most powerful political force in West Bengal. Already, her government has grappled with numerous attempts by nefarious elements to trigger communal tension and riots.
Engaging in wanton violence, specially during the polls, will only push Bengal’s electorate more into the arms of the BJP. And that is one disservice to the state the Chief Minister would not like to be remembered for.