West Bengal is known to witness political violence around the year, a legacy of over three-decade-long Marxist rule. However, at the time of elections, violent incidents increase both in number and intensity. Unfortunately, under the Trinamool Congress West Bengal has become much worse, with the police and other services virtually becoming an extension of the ruling party.
Scores of incidents ahead of and during polling in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls were caught on peoples’ cameras and transmitted widely, underscoring the sharp deterioration of law and order under Mamata Banerjee. Instead of tackling the degradation of the law and order machinery, Banerjee has further accentuated its partisan role and functioning. Staff on poll duty has been beaten by TMC goons with impunity right under the eyes of the police.
Several incidents of booth capturing, intimidation of voters, forcible denial of the right to vote to a whole group of people, especially in the border districts with a profusion of Bangladeshis and even illegal Rohingya refugees, are recorded on videographers. These are doing the rounds on various WhatsApp groups.
A vigilant Election Commission ought to have the courage and wisdom to act suo motu and take stern action against the perpetrators and, at the very least, order a re-poll in the affected booths before counting on May 23. Banerjee cannot be allowed to preside over the wholesale hijacking of the election by the TMC goondas. It may be that one reason for the increase in poll-related violence is the stiff challenge the BJP has come to pose to the ruling party.
The BJP has left the other opposition groups, namely, the Marxists and the Congress Party, far behind to emerge as the principal challenger to the TMC. This would explain the heightened anxiety of the TMC cadres to ensure that the voter presumed to be anti-TMC is prevented from voting through intimidation and violence.
Led by the state government itself, every official agency has publicly undertaken a partisan role to prevent the Opposition from campaigning freely. Permission to hold meetings is denied, helicopters of BJP leaders arbitrarily disallowed to land, its workers are arrested on false and flimsy charges. Even the central forces deputed to assist the local authorities in conducting the poll are not spared.
And Banerjee herself openly incites violence, threatening punitive action against central agencies and personnel. She, in other words, is responsible for instigating her cadre to indulge in lawlessness, a clear indication that she is worried at the rise of the saffron parivaar in what she had hitherto perceived to be her own exclusive backyard.
However, the growing tension between the TMC and the BJP took an ugly turn on Tuesday evening when the BJP President Amit Shah was leading a road-show in Kolkata prior to a public meeting. According to reports, the violent incidents were triggered when the road-show was passing in front of the University of Calcutta’s College Street Campus and Vidyasagar College on Bidhan Sarani.
Bricks and bottles were rained on the BJP supporters, leading to chaos and clashes between the two sides. The attackers belonging to the student wing affiliated to the ruling party took shelter inside the college building. During the ensuing rioting the bust of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the 19th-century social reformer, was broken. A BJP spokesman claimed that the party president was the chief target of the TMC lumpens who was rescued by his alert security guards. Scores of BJP workers were injured, a number of them severely.
Predictably, the police registered an FIR filed by TMC workers and arrested hundreds of BJP supporters, including local leaders. Shah was named in the FIR. Both sides have lodged counter FIRs, though thus far the police are yet to proceed against the TMC cadres. The scale and intensity of violence ahead of the last phase of polling in West Bengal, the State features in all seven phases, has shocked political observers.
Both sides, it would seem, are determined not to yield an inch. Bitter campaign rancor, and Banerjee’s boast to ensure that the BJP does not win even a single seat— in the outgoing Lok Sabha BJP has two members— has contributed to the mayhem. Unless better sense prevails, the last few days before the results are declared are bound to be full of tension and anxiety for ordinary people in West Bengal. It is the duty of the State government as the keeper of law and order to infuse a sense of security in the people, instead of creating a violent atmosphere with an eye on rigging the people’s verdict.