Bengal politics long entwined with violence: Analysts
This has long been entwined with state politics due to factors like economic conditions and prolonged single-party rule, analysts said
The ongoing bloodshed in West Bengal over the July 8 rural polls has once again brought the issue of political violence into focus.
This has long been entwined with state politics due to factors like economic conditions and prolonged single-party rule, analysts said.
In the run-up to the three-tier panchayat polls, 10 lives have so far been lost and several others injured, as clashes among political parties and attacks on rivals have become all too common, indicating the close association between politics and violence in the state.
The 2003 panchayat polls gained notoriety for its death toll of 76, with more than 40 killed on the day of the elections.
The 2013 rural polls, held under the supervision of central forces, and the 2018 elections recorded casualty figures of 39 and 30 respectively.
Political analysts and former bureaucrats feel that the state in the last fifty years has witnessed a shift in politics from being ideologically driven to identity-oriented to the class of 'haves and have-nots', resulting in a mutation of violence for various parties to assert control over territories rather than establishing principles or ideals.
"The panchayat elections are not just about victory or defeat. These polls are about livelihood and the economy that keep the pot boiling. Due to lack of industrial development and unemployment in West Bengal, people in rural and semi-urban areas mostly depend on government and panchayat to earn their livelihood, and parties use it to leverage over others," political scientist Maidul Islam said.
He pointed out that the funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other rural development schemes are not only modes of development but also "breeds corruption and violence".
"Everybody wants a pie of it, be it opposition or ruling, and that leads to violence," Islam, an assistant professor at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences here, said.
In the rural polls held five years ago, the ruling TMC won 90 per cent of the panchayat seats and all 22 zilla parishads. The elections were marred by widespread violence, with the opposition alleging that they were prevented from filing nominations in several seats across the state.
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty feels that while ideological differences and historical incidents, such as the Tebhaga and the Naxalite movements, have played a role in the past, the "current manifestations of violence are predominantly rooted in economic conditions, political domination, and the bitter rivalry among political activists at the grassroots level".
"Bengal has a long history of single-party domination, first the Congress, then the Left and now the TMC. But in the last thirty years, thanks to the Left, a class of haves and have-nots came up in rural areas where if you are with the ruling party and on the winning side, you get all the benefits. If you are on the opposite side, you are excluded from the list of beneficiaries. This trend is still on," Chakraborty, a professor at Rabindra Bharati University, said.
Bengal's long history of political violence can be traced back to the Tebhaga Movement from 1946 to 1948, led by the Communist Party of India.
This movement led to bloodshed between landowners, supported by the Congress, and the peasantry demanding a fair share of harvested crops.
The state also experienced other violent movements like the food movement in 1959 and the students' movement in the early sixties, further intensifying the unrest.
The Naxalite movement in 1967, spearheaded by Charu Majumdar, plunged the state into anarchy with targetted killings of landlords, police personnel, and political opponents.
Following the formation of the Left Front government in 1977, there was a period of calm for a few years. However, the opposition has often blamed the Left for introducing the culture of "silent threats".
Even after the formation of the TMC in 1998, political violence continued unabated, as evident from the casualty figures in subsequent panchayat polls.
Former DGP (West Bengal Railway police) Adhir Sharma feels that "prolonged dominance created a power dynamic, which politicised the system and often led to confrontations and violence instead of peaceful resolution through democratic norms."
Despite parties acknowledging the necessity of eliminating the culture and legacy of violence in politics and elections, they engage in a blame game.
"We agree that this culture of political violence has to stop, but this time violence during elections is much less, compared to what happened during the Left regime. It is the Left which institutionalised violence during its three-decade rule.
"Now the opposition parties have ganged up against us. It is not just the ruling, but all other parties have to come together to stop this menace," senior TMC MP Sougata Roy told PTI.
While pointing out that "mostly TMC workers are getting killed", Roy said the party's leadership had issued strict instructions against using strong-arm tactics.
"The Congress started it in the seventies, the Left carried that legacy forward, and the TMC now has taken it to a different level. The ruling party has to show the will to stop violence, but the present regime has ensured that the state tops the chart in political violence and killings," BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.
CPI (M) leader Sujan Chakraborty rubbished the allegations of the Left indulging in violence to win elections during its tenure and said, "The TMC's lack of respect for democratic process has pushed the state towards lawlessness.".
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said that the "grab-all mindset" of the TMC, with “no space for any form of opposition, has led to this anarchic situation".
Around 5.67 crore electorates will exercise their franchise on Saturday to choose representatives for nearly 74,000 seats in zilla parishads, panchayat samitis and gram panchayats.