Democracy is safe and secure in West Bengal, it is proclaimed from the rooftop by TMC leaders as if the state is an island of peace surrounded by sea of anarchy unleashed by the BJP. Let us see how safe and secure it is. Even some of the most ardent supporters of Didi are now aghast at the kind of lawlessness witnessed before, during and after the recent Panchayat elections in the state. The situation would not have been so bad but for the virtual abdication of responsibility by the administration with the state election commission, a constitutional body, as well as the police, the protector of law and order, being virtually at the beck and call of the powers-that-be.
The spurt in violence surrounding recent Panchayat elections in the state had several interesting features. First, unlike previous such occasions, the violence had started much before the day of the elections, right from the time of filing of nominations with the result the opposition candidates particularly those belonging to the BJP and the CPI-M could not file nominations in more than 34 per cent (unofficially 40 per cent as at many places TMC put up dummy candidates to spoil the prospects of the opposition parties or TMC’s rival factions put up their own candidates) of the 58,692 seats—to be precise, TMC candidates were elected unopposed in about 34.6 per cent of the seats in Gram Panchayats (16,814 out of a total of 48,650), 33.2 per cent in Panchayat Samitis (3059 out of 9217) and 24.6 per cent in Zilla Parishads (203 out of 825). The whole election process thus was derailed by violence, intimidation and the consequent legal challenges. The elections could be held only after the court intervention.
Ever since the Panchayat elections began in West Bengal in 1978, there have been two instances of the percentage of uncontested seats going into double digits–11 per cent in 2003 (under the Left Front rule) and 10.66 per cent in 2013 (under the TMC rule). It means the number of uncontested seats this time was more than three times the previous high. What was the trigger? Prior to the announcement of election dates, the TMC supremo had issued the fatwa that 100 per cent Panchayat seats must go to the ruling party, followed by a similar diktat also from her nephew. The message thus was loud and clear to the party cadre at the ground—stop the Opposition, particularly the BJP by all means.
No wonder, there was no letup in violence even on the election day with more than 40 reported deaths. The scenario degenerated into a mockery of democracy as political goons began to jam booths, drive out election observers and loot ballot boxes. Miscreants were seen breaking open sealed ballot boxes in full public view and setting the ballot papers on fire or dumping them in local ponds. Re-polling was ordered in 568 booths across the state. The picture in the aftermath of the election too was no different. All in the name of democracy.
Was all this really needed? That the TMC would not face serious challenges was a foregone conclusion. It did not have to resort to this kind of widespread violence. But the party supremo perhaps was not so sure. That her fear was not entirely unfounded became clear once the election results started pouring in. Despite violence and intimidation, the BJP significantly stepped up its vote share. In tribal areas particularly, BJP’s performance was impressive and TMC’s poor.
What created stir across the country is the murder of two BJP workers, both from Scheduled Caste, within a gap of three days in the first week of June in Purulia District. While 20-year old Trilochan Mahato was found hanging from a tree, the 32-year old Dulal Kumar from a high tension electric line. It is alleged that both were killed by the TMC goons. The police, as expected, brushed aside the allegation saying the deaths were caused by suicides, something not acceptable to the respective families, friends and the party workers. There is a reason for their refusal to accept the police version. Interestingly, there has been no protest march, no candle light processions and outpouring of grief over the murder of Scheduled Caste persons by so-called left intellectuals and seculars and other champions of democracy presumably because the victims, though from Scheduled Caste, belonged to the BJP.
Mamata’s writ does not seem to run everywhere in the state, say some political observers. She might be losing her grip over the lower levels in her party machinery where the lack of organisational control is showing up. Rampant factionalism is tearing the party apart in many areas. The local chieftains rule the roost and fish in the muddy waters even as various factions under the same party banner are at loggerheads. The jump in intra-party violence with one faction pitted against the other has led to murder of party workers and supporters.
When one can do little to curb intra-party feuds, one does what one is best at. One comes down heavily on the local administration. The state government too has transferred District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police and other officials from areas where the party has suffered defeat in the hands of the BJP, or where the performance of the BJP has been much better than before. The message is clear: the administration must help the ruling party win the elections; else must face punishment of posting. Even the Ministers have not been spared. Churamoni Mahato and James Kujur, who were Ministers in charge of backward class development and tribal welfare, have been stripped off their portfolios on the ground of party’s poor show in tribal areas, particularly in Alipurduar and Jhargram, the districts from where Kujur and Mahato were elected respectively in last Assembly elections.
Ever since the beginning of the process entailing the decline of the CPI-M and the rise of the TMC, the goons and anti-social elements who flourished under the tutelage of the Marxist party changed their loyalty and switched over to the TMC, then new rising star, obviously for protection. TMC too welcomed them with open arms because it felt that their ‘services’ would be critical to retain power. The arrangement, which has so far worked smoothly, it now appears, is creaking under the burden of its own contradictions.
The political watchers are haunted by some questions. Is not Mamata, the self-styled Messiah of democracy, disregarding the basic principle of democracy by not allowing Opposition to take part in the elections? Will her no-holds-barred strategy adopted in the Panchayat elections stand her in good stead also in the 2019 Parliamentary elections or run the risk of damaging the party itself? Will it not boomerang on her and her party?
The Price of Being a BJP Worker!
TMC goons brutally murdered 18-year-old BJP leader in Balarampur, Purulia District. The victim, Trilochan Mahato, was kidnapped by the TMC goons on May 29. His body was later found hanging from a tree on May 30 with a poster stuck on his back stating that it was a punishment for being a BJP worker. According to media reports, the handwritten poster, in Bengali, stuck on his body reads, "This is for doing BJP politics from age 18. Been trying to kill you since the vote. Failed. Today you are dead." The local police have filed an FIR and are investigating the case.
Reacting to the gruesome murder, BJP national president Amit Shah expressed condolence in a tweet and said, "Deeply hurt by the brutal killing of our young karyakarta, Trilochan Mahato in Balarampur, West Bengal. A young life full of possibilities was brutally taken out under state’s patronage. He was hanged on a tree just because his ideology differed from those of state-sponsored goons. The present TMC govt in West Bengal has surpassed the violent legacy of Communist rule. Entire BJP mourns this tragic loss and stands firmly with Trilochan Mahato’s family in this hour of grief. His sacrifice for organisation and ideology will not go in vain. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti."
Union Minister and BJP MP from Asansol, Babul Supriyo lashed out at the TMC and compared West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Adolf Hitler. "A life was lost at such a ripe age. What was his fault? Just that he supported BJP. Madam's activities resemble somewhat to that of Hitler. My condolences to the family of Trilochan Mahato who was killed by Trinamool's goon army. #TMChhi," he said in a tweet. The BJP has demanded a CBI probe into the gruesome murder of Trilochan.
The party also alleged that the murder was an outcome of the TMC insecurity after the BJP did well in the Panchayat elections.
Another BJP Worker Killed
Three days after the brutal murder of Trilochan Mahato in Purulia, the TMC goons murdered another BJP worker in Dabha village of the same District. Dulal Kumar (30) was found hanging from an electric tower on June 2. He was abducted on the night of June 1. His family also alleged that the TMC goons killed Dulal Kumar and they dismissed any possibility of suicide. “We started looking for him around 9.00 pm. When I called on his mobile phone, he picked up and disconnected the call,” said Roopchand Kumar, Dulal's cousin. Reacting to the incident, the BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, tweeted that Dulal’s murder is quite similar to that of Trilochan Mahato.
Elected candidates seek asylum in Delhi
Over 100 BJP workers from West Bengal, including women, who were elected in recent Panchayat polls, reached Delhi and sought asylum at the residence of the BJP leader Mukul Roy. On May 31, they took to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and handed over a petition against large-scale violence and atrocities of the ruling party. The victims, while speaking to Organiser, said the TMC goons threatened them to leave the BJP and join the TMC. The TMC local leadership also issued diktat demanding a fine of Rs 50,000 from each winning candidate of the BJP for contesting against the TMC.
Ganesh Singh, a BJP candidate from Purulia District, said the situation in West Bengal is worse than ever. He said he had won by 550 votes in the election by defeating TMC’s Anathbandhu Maji. "But later on the TMC candidate was declared the winner," he lamented. "A group of TMC workers had approached me and ordered me to sign some papers soon after the declaration of results. But, I refused to do so," he added. A winning female candidate of the BJP, Mamata, said the TMC goons attacked her family members for contesting the election. “With folded hands, we request to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi that we want justice,” she said. The displaced BJP workers, along with their families, have been camping in the premises of Mukul Roy's South Avenue residence for the last two weeks. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha leader Digvijay Singh said the workers are afraid of going back to West Bengal.
Talking to Organiser, the BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said they have handed over the NHRC all evidences pertaining to the
rampant violence unleashed by the TMC during Panchayat elections. Around 67 murders took place during the polls. During the polls, the TMC goons roamed around in police vehicles and attacked the BJP workers. He said the BJP has submitted evidences, including photos of TMC violence to both the Election Commission and NHRC.