IN West Bengal, panchayat elections have been reduced to a farce as 34 per cent seats in three tiers have been captured by the TMC ‘uncontested’. There is no example of such an unashamed exercise of terrorisation either in West Bengal or in the country.
The first phase of organised attack occurred during the nomination period, when BDO and SDO offices were cordoned by the TMC armed gangs who chased away opposition candidates, injuring hundreds in the process. The second phase of attack was witnessed on the extra date of nomination, declared by the State Election Commission under stricture from the High Court. Ferocious violence was unleashed against opposition candidates, activists and media persons on that day.
The next phase of attack came with the aim of forcing the withdrawal of nominations. Left and opposition candidates were threatened, their houses attacked, family members kidnapped to force their withdrawal from contest. In Raiganj in North Dinajpur, the husband of CPI(M) zilla parishad candidate was kidnapped from the road by an armed TMC gang; he was forced to ring his wife to accompany TMC hoodlums in a car and both of them were detained for 17 hours before forcibly getting her to sign the withdrawal. A Congress party candidate was also forced to withdraw his nomination in the same seat after his house was attacked. In Taldangra in Bankura, nearly 60 TMC miscreants attacked CPI(M) Central Committee member Amiya Patra’s house and ransacked everything in the house. Patra had to save his and his wife’s life somehow. The attack was sequel to attacks in the area for forcing the withdrawal of the CPI(M) candidate to zilla parishad elections. (Incidentally, three CPI(M) CC members – Basudev Acharya, Ramchandra Dome, Amiya Patra were attacked during the panchayat election process). In Murshidabad, police joined the TMC in enforcing withdrawal of nominations. In Sagardighi, a TMC gang kidnapped CPI(M) zilla parishad candidate Smita Dolui. In Lalgola, police and TMC gangs raided houses of Left Front candidates and threatened them or their families with dire consequences and false cases. More than 100 false cases have been registered to arrest CPI(M) candidates. In most of the places, Left candidates are staying outside their homes. In Birbhum, whatever opposition contestants are there, police has been instructed to force them to withdraw. They are moving from house to house and clearly told opposition candidates that if they wanted to live in peace they had to withdraw.
However, in many places, Left candidates refused to surrender even after physical attacks. In Sabang in West Midnapore, CPI(M) candidate Subhash Ghosh and his entire family were beaten, attacked with sharp weapons, causing grievous injuries but he refused to withdraw. In places like Keshpur in West Midnapore and Hantola in Howrah, villagers are providing security to their candidates even in the night. Stories of collective resistance are numerous in North Dinajpur, Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas.
34 PER CENT ‘UNCONTESTED’
The amount of terror is reflected clearly in the number of uncontested seats won by the TMC. In zilla parishad, 203 seats have been rendered ‘uncontested’ out of a total 625. In Birbhum, TMC captured all 42 seats without contest. In Murshidabad, TMC ‘won’ in 48 seats without contest out of 70. In Bankura, TMC ‘won’ in 31 out of 46 seats. In South 24 Parganas they ‘won’ 28 out of 81 seats. In panchayat samiti level, TMC ‘won’ 3,059 out of 9,217. In gram panchayat level, out of 48,650 seats, the ruling party ‘won’ uncontested in 16,814. In zilla parishad, 25 per cent seats were rendered uncontested, in panchayat samiti, it is 33 per cent and in village level, it is 35 per cent. On an average 34 per cent of seats in the three tiers have been ‘won’ by the ruling party without contest.
Interestingly, up to nomination submission period, the number was 27 per cent. It increased 7 per cent more at the withdrawal period, clearly indicating that opposition candidates were forced to withdraw from contest.
INTERVENTION FROM THE HIGH COURT
The observations from Kolkata High Court have vindicated the allegations of the opposition. Apart from strongly criticising the State Election Commission for not following legal procedures, the High Court has questioned about the single-day schedule of elections and the security situation. It has termed the declared schedule of voting on May 14 as ‘tentative’ and ordered SEC and state government to submit further affidavits. The court also agreed to hear the plea of filing e-nomination, through e-mail. The court also expressed dissatisfaction over the discussion with political parties which was not ‘meaningful’.
CPI(M) and other Left parties are, however, fighting back this terror with courage. Despite this all-out attack, thousands of Left candidates forced their way in and submitted nominations. CPI(M) state secretary Surjyakanta Misra has declared that though a farce was being thrust upon West Bengal where democracy was being butchered, there would be intense resistance in every inch. The struggle to restore democracy in West Bengal will be fought in every village. Left Front and supporting parties have decided to reject any idea of boycotting the elections despite all-out attack. Political campaign has already started in the villages. On May 3-4, there will be a 24 hour dharna in Kolkata, protesting the mayhem. Thereafter a rally will be organised.