THE process of this year’s panchayat elections in West Bengal has exposed unashamed terror-based, lumpenised political-administrative structure in Mamata Banerjee regime.
As the process of nominations began, TMC terror machine became active. Earlier it was booth capturing; this year it began with administrative office capturing. Block and sub divisional offices were cordoned off and opposition candidates were barred from submitting nominations. Hundreds of incidents took place where opposition candidates, particularly Left Front candidates were not only forcefully obstructed but physically attacked.
In major incidents, CPI(M) Central Committee member Ramachandra Dome was attacked in Nalhati in Birbhum. Veteran CPI(M) leader and nine-time MP Basudev Acharya was attacked in Kashipore, Purulia. He was mercilessly beaten along with candidates who went to submit nominations.
In Bankura, CPI(M) candidates went to submit nominations collectively after repeated attacks. Left legislative leader Sujan Chakraborty was present in the procession. TMC armed gangs with the help from police attacked the rally, beat up women also. None was successful in submitting nominations.
In Burdwan town, Left Front candidates were severely beaten within SDO office. Their nomination papers were snatched and torn. Police and two SDOs helped TMC goons directly. Many were injured. This office was blocked for the rest of days.
In Mayursewar in Birbhum, police attacked huge gathering of villagers and chased away all of them. No nomination paper could be submitted.
In Arambagh, Mithu Karak, Rina Karak and other women candidates of Goghat were publicly attacked. They faced molestation. They submitted their nomination on behalf of Forward Block. Former Forward Block MLA Biswanath Karak was attacked, his face blackened in the same incident. The video of this attack has become viral.
In Diamond Harbour, TMC cordoned off BDO /SDO office for days. Left Front candidates were chased away. In Magrahat in South 24 Parganas, TMC gang fired in which a policeman was injured. In Raghunatganj in Murshidabad, police and TMC armed gangs attacked opposition candidates. Repeated attacks took place in Lalgola, Jangipur, Kandi, Nabagram.
In Baruipur in South 24 Parganas , CPI(M) activist Ayub Laskar suffered bullet injury after villagers defied TMC whip and submitted nominations. He was critically injured.
Nearly 100 women were attacked, injured in seven days.
But there is another side of the story. Despite organised attacks, Left Front supporters showed extreme courage and submitted nominations as far as possible. In many areas, women activists and supporters took the lead. Stories of individual courage and collective resistance were abundant. In some areas, villagers collectively decided to safeguard opposition candidates and protected them up to block office. In many areas, Left Front candidates had to innovate ways to slip through the ruffians’ barricade and submitted nominations. In fact, strong and spirited resistance by CPI(M) and Left activists have forced the ruling party to face a challenge.
Braving terror, Left Front and the supporting parties have fielded over 20,000 candidates in gram panchayat level, out of 48,000. In many areas, BJP candidates were allowed to submit nominations while the Lefts were obstructed.
However, after nomination process was over, it was clear that thousands of seats have been captured by the ruling party without any contest at all. In Birbhum zila parishad, TMC won 41 seats without contest, out of 42. TMC district president has declared openly that all seats in all three stages of panchayat would be captured by his party. In many block level panchayat samities, ruling party has already ‘won’ without contest.
The collapse of constitutional authorities has become prominent with the role of State Election Commission. It has become a puppet in the hands of the state government. After large scale complaints, deputations, protests before SEC office, the state election commissioner tried to act. On April 9th night, state election commissioner Amarendra Singh issued a notice declaring that ‘ many intending candidates could not submit nominations because of intimidation’ and therefore they have extended the time of filing nomination for a day more. As the report goes, on April 10th morning, four ministers and TMC MP went to his house, threatened him. The state election commissioner withdrew his own notice and cancelled extension. Such a volte face earned ridicule and condemnation from all sections.
In fact, elections are being conducted not from State Election Commission office, but from Nabanna, the state secretariat. In districts, administrative officers are taking orders from the ruling party leaders, police playing the role of cohorts of TMC criminals. Journalists were beaten up in districts. In one such incident, a photographer of TOI was kidnapped, locked in a room and was stripped. Such a blatant exhibition of authoritarian regime has shocked the conscience of the state.
Left Front and 17 Left parties have started protest demonstrations in front of State Election Commission office. Every day, protestors from a district have gathered around and clashes with police have taken place. A paranoid state administration has imposed prohibitory orders in the area where SEC office is located. Hundreds of protestors have been arrested including those from Left women organisations.
Three tier panchayats and decentralisation of power through it had created a path breaking example during the Left Front government. It attracted the attention of national and international scholars of social sciences. This, along with land reforms and empowerment of poorer sections of rural people has changed rural Bengal. In the last seven years, the structure has collapsed. Panchayats have now become one of the major source of corruption for local TMC leaders. The lumpenisation in the rural areas, presided over by the ruling party is heavily based on the loot of panchayat funds. It is one of the main reasons that the TMC is desperate to retain control on each and every village panchayat. Panchayats and district level administration has also become instrument of massive loot of natural resources – land to river beds and forests. This unprecedented campaign of terror has its political economy too.