THE ruling TMC in West Bengal has resorted to full-fledged assault on democracy and the rule of law as panchayat elections have started to become a farce. From the declaration of schedule to murderous attacks on opposition candidates in the nomination process, this year’s panchayat elections have brought out the authoritarian character of the TMC most crudely.
The chief minister has herself declared repeatedly that she wanted ‘opposition-free panchayats’. Her party leaders, including MPs called upon party activists to ensure that no opposition member gets elected. The monstrous process has thus started.
Though the three tier panchayat is a constitutional arrangement, every democratic norm is being violated in West Bengal. To begin with, panchayat elections were declared suddenly. In the all party meeting, held just two days before the announcement, the state election commissioner refused to discuss probable dates and confessed that he was ‘totally dependent’ on the state administration. On March 31, the State Election Commission declared the schedule. The three phase elections will be held on May 1st, 3rd and 5th. The nomination process has started from April 2. It will continue up to April 9. The process started with notification, virtually providing no time to opposition parties to prepare. The total number of seats in panchayat is 58,692. Only seven days are available for filing of nomination in such huge number of seats. Though three-phase elections have been declared, surprisingly the last date for filing of nomination is the same for all phases. The schedule also clashes with ongoing higher secondary examinations in the state. This will hinder the campaign as microphones would not be used during this period.
The schedule has also brought out nefarious designs of the ruling party. While 12 districts will go to polls on the first day, only two - Birbhum and Murshidabad - will be in the second. These two districts have been selected to intensify terror.
As soon as the process of collecting and filing of nomination papers started on April 2, TMC armed gangs began to cordon Block Development Offices (BDO), Sub Divisional Offices (SDO), and even District Magistrate’s offices in some districts. The plan is simple: the ruling party will not allow the opposition to collect and submit nomination papers. This is a new method which was applied partially in 2013 in Birbhum and some other districts. This year it has become the dominant feature in the state in the first stage of terror. The right to contest an election, a constitutional right, has become endangered, in what may be termed as, ‘pre-election rigging’.
In Birbhum, TMC miscreants gathered in numbers in Siuri, Rampurhat, Labhpur, Nanur, Ilambazar, Bolpur, Nalhati 2, Murarai, Dubrajpur and Mohammad Bazar. They cordoned the offices and chased away CPI(M), Left Front and other opposition activists who came to either collect or submit nominations. In Rampurhat, CPI(M) member of Budhigram panchayat, Panai Sheikh was brutally attacked. Sheikh is a disabled person from birth. Despite that, he was mercilessly beaten and was later admitted to hospital. CPI(M) panchayat member Rana Let was mercilessly beaten in Rampurhat. CPI(M) candidate Mitali Das was manhandled, her voter card and other documents snatched, her husband beaten in Nalhati. TMC district president and an infamous muscleman Anubrata Mondal has boasted in front of media, “Whenever opposition supporters try to submit nomination, they will see development stands in front of them”. It was clear that he meant TMC armed gangs as ‘development’. On the second and third day, TMC cadre openly exhibited swords, knives in front of block offices. In Mauyreswar-1, they virtually blocked the entrance and CPI(M) candidate Sajjad Mirza was attacked. In Rampurhat, CPI(ML) candidate and secretary of Rampurhat Bar Association Prodyot Mukherjee was severely beaten. In Siuri, BJP leader Kalosona Mondal was stabbed in the vicinity of the DM office. Presence of media persons is banned in Birbhum block offices by the fatwa of the TMC.
On April 2, CPI(M) candidates from villages in Borjora in Bankura district came to file their nomination at the block office. TMC gangs attacked them injuring more than 30 persons including women. CPI(M) district committee member Sujoy Chowdhury, Borjora panchayat samiti member Sharif Mondal, and others were injured. Attacks continued in different parts of Bankura. In Bankura town itself, no Left Front candidate was allowed to enter the BDO office. In Hirbandh, CPI(M) activists were brutally beaten when they entered the BDO office. Many of them were injured. However, local people retaliated and chased away the TMC miscreants. In Ranibandh, TMC miscreants attacked CPI(M) activists. Later in a clash, a BJP candidate, Ajit Murmu was killed.
In East Midnapore, CPI(M) candidates were attacked in Khejuri, Panskura and Sutahata. In Sutahata, CPI(M) MLA Tapashi Mondal was attacked as she led Left Front candidates to the block office. Nur Alam, Sabhapati of Sutahata panchayat samiti was severely beaten.
In Burdwan East, block offices in Galsi, Ketugram-2, Katwa, Aushgram-2, Raina-1, Khandaghosh have been surrounded. CPI(M) leaders and candidates were attacked.
In South 24 Parganas, TMC has organised an attack in Budge Budge-1, Budge Budge-2, Falta, Magrahat-2, Diamond Harbour-2 and prevented CPI(M) candidates from collecting nomination forms.
In North 24 Parganas, TMC activists attacked CPI(M) office in Murarishah, Hasnabad and attacked Party activists. TMC gangs cordoned a market area to attack CPI(M) activists, creating largescale panic among people. CPI(M) district committee member Shakti Mukherjee was injured among others. In Minakha, TMC activists took position within BDO office and severely beat up CPI(M) candidates.
In Coochbehar, Left Front candidates were prevented from submission of nomination forms. They were attacked and journalists were mercilessly beaten up by TMC activists.
In Raiganj in North Dinajpur, TMC gangs started firing and charged bombs to disperse opposition candidates on April 4. They terrorised the entire town and searched for CPI(M) and opposition activists. TMC armed gangs blocked nomination process in Kaliyaganj, Itahar.
In Murshidabad district, block offices in Raghunathganj, Kandi, Baroan, Salar, Raninahar, Jalangi, Nabagram, Murshidanad-Jiaganj have been captured by TMC miscreants. CPI(M) offices in Raninagar and Sherpur were vandalised.
In Hooghly, TMC armed gangs have taken control of block offices in Haripal, Jangipara and Goghat.
In almost all areas, the police have become an accomplice of the the TMC. In some districts, police have actively participated in chasing away opposition activists.
However, in such an atmosphere of State-sponsored terror, Left Front activists are trying their level best to submit nominations, braving attacks and intimidations.
NON-EXISTENT STATE ELECTION COMMISSION
The State Election Commission has abjectly surrendered and has remained totally insensitive to atrocities committed. Left Front delegation has met the state election commissioner regularly but he expressed his inability to address any of the grievances. Left Front delegation has demanded security during the nomination process, which is practically absent in districts. Apart from direct attacks, the system of providing provisional caste certificates has been cancelled. The very short time span available for nomination has made this process more difficult. State Election Commission has also failed to explain the rationale behind this schedule. While only seven days are available for submission of nominations, same number of days are allotted for withdrawal. It has been apprehended that the TMC would pressurise and force opposition candidates to withdraw.
The first phase of voting will take place on the May Day. Central trade unions, Left parties and many other organisations have forcefully objected to this denigration of International Working Peoples’ Day and demanded a change in the schedule. Trade unions have organized a rally in front of the State Election Commission’s office.
To recollect, in Mamata Banerjee’s reign, one state election commissioner had to move to courts seeking protection of her duties under tremendous threat from the state government and another was forced to resign during the election process, threatened by state ministers.
CPI(M) state secretary Surjyakanta Misra, in a press meet, said that earlier we have seen booth capturing by the TMC in every elections in West Bengal in their regime. But now BDO, SDO, even DM offices are being captured. Opposition parties are not being allowed even to submit nomination. Police is a mere spectator or partner in the crime. Opposition candidates are being attacked in the premises of administrative offices. State Election Commission has become immobile from the very beginning and the entire election machinery is run from Nabanna, the state secretariat. Whether there will be campaign and voting has become uncertain as the primary process of nomination is being resisted. Left Front will organise mass deputation to State Election Office to protest this large scale attack on democracy.
Misra, however, called upon Left activists and supporters to resist the terror and move collectively to submit nomination.
Left Front chairman Biman Basu said that the panchayat elections are destined to be farce in such an atmosphere. TMC is trying to build a ‘new kind of democracy’ without the existence of opposition.
A Left Front delegation submitted deputation to the governor. They urged him to intervene to protect constitutional rights of the people of the state.