Lok Sabha Poll Campaign in West Bengal
THE election campaign for the 16th Lok Sabha poll, which has already entered into a very intensive phase in all the districts of West Bengal, is a unique experience in our state for more than one reason. This time the Lok Sabha election is going to be held in the state in the backdrop of nearly three years of TMC autocracy. The bitter experiences of the violence-marred panchayat and municipal elections are still fresh in the minds of the people. The ruling TMC was in no mood to give any chance to normal democratic practices during the elections to the school managing committees, students unions and academic bodies in colleges and universities, co-operatives and any sort of local bodies poll. Since the change of government in May 2011, a total of 146 CPI(M) activists were killed by the TMC-backed hooligans, 40,000 Party workers were evicted from their houses, and nearly 20,000 Party workers were implicated in false cases. During the panchayat poll campaigns alone, 25 activists of the Left parties were murdered. The TMC government practically tried to intimidate the State Election Commission and challenged most undemocratically its constitutional authority. In fact, it is not the Left Front alone, all the opposition parties, even independent candidates, including the TMC dissidents, were under constant threat from the party in power. The Left Front took up the matter well in advance before the Election Commission and sought its judicious intervention, so that the people can exercise their voting rights properly in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The upcoming Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal will be a five-phase one and going to be held between April 17 and May 12 along with the bye-elections to six assembly seats. The TMC leadership, for reasons understandable, is not very happy with schedule and they could not resist commenting obliquely against the EC decision. The Left Front on the other hand has already distributed in large numbers the copies of the EC appeal for large participation and peaceful voting widely across the state. To ensure a violence-free vote is unarguably the greatest challenge before the Election Commission as well as before most of the 62.4 million voters. The LS poll schedule was announced at a time when open public meetings were restricted across the state due to the higher secondary examination. The LF declared the list of candidates in Kolkata on March 5, that is, on the day the ECI in New Delhi announced the poll schedule. WIDE SPREAD CAMPAIGN The LF by the time organised hundreds of meetings of the workers in all constituencies explaining to them the main campaign points and important political issues mentioned in the Party manifesto. LF workers are trying to reach every family and every voter, despite TMC terror. The CPI(M) West Bengal state committee has already published seven booklets highlighting relevant political issues and exposing the horrible misdeeds of the TMC government, frightening TMC party along with the failures of the TMC union ministers in the UPA-2 government. All the booklets are well received by the LF activists and the common people as well. Lakhs of copies were printed. Even the anti-Left media were compelled to appreciate in one way or the other. The CPI(M) state committee also opened officially its Facebook account and a Twitter account, both of which have already created significant impact. Young party activists are actively involved with Party’s online campaign. The TMC, BJP and Congress on the other hand opted for an expensive campaign strategy. The ruling TMC, in particular, unlike any other state-based party, is spending a hefty amount of money in poll campaign. Just before the election notification, the state government released a series of advertisements full of false propaganda – a sheer wastage of crores of public money. The state government while ridiculously blaming the previous LF government for their utter failure in every field without exception, is spending huge amount from the same fund to propagate false claims and fabricated statistics, hitherto unprecedented in the state. Not only advertisements in print and electronic media, the state government and the ruling party in West Bengal has already spent crores of rupees by installing expensive bill boards focusing the TMC supremo (who is herself the party and the government) throughout the state. The state government failing miserably to fulfill its huge promises to the people, is hell bent to suppress all sorts of criticism from any corner on the one hand; and adopt supposititious tactics of suppressing the truth speaking verbosely with the media back-up on the other. That the TMC’s money power knows no bounds with the mega-corruptions exposed one after another is as clear today as daylight. The ruling party is trying to hoodwink the people and divert their attention from real socio-political issues by hiring so-called stars and page-3 celebrities in election campaigns, some of them, it is known, have also been forced to fall in line with the ruling clique in the face of direct and indirect political pressure. Both the BJP and the Congress are also depending on expensive methods of poll campaign. Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have already visited the state and attended election meetings without having any notable impact. As apprehended earlier, the TMC cares little to comply with the model code of conduct. The politicisation, rather Trinamoonalisation, of the police, general administration, cultural and academic institutions for the last 34 months has taken an alarming shape and dimension. The very basis of the rule of law is deliberately shaken against the Left and the opposition. Even the governor of West Bengal otherwise unusually cordial to the TMC government, few weeks back, criticised the trend of “goonda-raj” in the state. TMC leaders from the top to the bottom are indulging in all sorts of autocratic practices; even they are inciting violence in their speeches and actions, invariably much to the chagrin of the CM. The widespread atrocities and horrific crimes against the women during the TMC rule in West Bengal now tops the list of such crimes among the Indian states. The inept and irresponsible role of the government at the instance of the chief minister towards these crimes and ungraceful comments of the TMC leaders, ministers and MPs towards women and the victims of rape in particular are blanket encouragement to the offenders. This has become a big poll issue in the state. The TMC government has failed to create new job opportunities. No single investment came here in the last three years. Some of the leading industrial houses, including the IT giants have decided to roll back. Permanent posts are routinely being turned into contract jobs with meagre payments. The TMC government failed to deliver minimum on all fronts, be it industry, be it agriculture, and be it infrastructural development, protecting the social securities of the LF government or priority areas like health and education. Anarchy is the rule everywhere. More than one hundred peasants and workers committed suicide, which is unprecedented in West Bengal. The ruling party in West Bengal is also relying heavily on money power to influence the voters. TMC’s nexus with the chit funds empire is now thoroughly exposed. One of the chit fund owners hailing from Haryana was made a TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP. Three TMC MP candidates for 16th Lok Sabha are known to be connected to or being beneficiaries of infamous chit fund enterprises. Recently the Supreme Court admonished the state government for not furnishing detailed information about beneficiaries of the scam-tainted chit fund that looted lakhs of people. The TMC government has been showing right from the beginning stubborn opposition to the CBI enquiry under the supervision of the court. Much bigger scandal is the Teacher’s Eligibility Test (commonly known as TET scandal) episode where 45 lakhs of young candidates were allowed to appear for 35 thousand posts in primary schools and only 17,000 were declared elected. Massive corruption involved with the patronage of the TMC bigwigs was exposed. A whiff of scandals is openly felt in all the spheres of administration. Never before has the state witnessed such mega-scams. The tainted image has been frantically sought by the TMC leaders to be repaired cleverly using Anna Hazare but in vain in the long run. The LF is drawing attention of the EC to each and every such case and has demanded appropriate action to stop such illegal practices. 39 complaints have already been lodged with the Election Commission since the declaration of the LS election. This apart, the LF is mobilising public opinion against the gross violation of election rules. The TMC autocracy seems to be in more trouble this time. TMC–BJP NEXUS The TMC –BJP nexus is also exposed in the state. The bleak future of the Congress party is obvious and the BJP is desperate to take advantage of the situation. The utter undemocratic and irrational policies of the TMC make it a natural ally of the BJP. Till date the nexus between the two former NDA partners remains covert. But they are finding it difficult to hide their unholy alliance. Modi’s recent speech at the Brigade Maidan pampering the Mamata government and the subsequent response of the TMC supremo reveal aptly their mutual interest in forging an overt post-poll alliance. The Congress party, despite corporate backing, has lost its face due to the total failure of the UPA-2 government in addressing urgent issues. Spiraling price hike of essential commodities, particularly of food items, rampant corruption in the high offices, increasing problems of unemployment, further pauperisation of the rural masses, crisis-ridden agricultural sector, almost no-growth situation in industrial sector, cut in wages, above all, neo-liberal attacks on the life and livelihood of the people landed the Pradesh Congress and its electoral prospect just on the verge of a disaster. Its association with the TMC as a good servant but a bad master has pushed it into doleful condition without any chance of recovery in West Bengal. TMC is largely successful in weakening, rather browbeating the Congress in all the districts. The 16th Lok Sabha election in West Bengal is largely a four-cornered contest. The LF, TMC, Congress and the BJP are in the fray. Other parties like, BSP, SP, SUCI, and CPI (ML) and some other parties are also contesting in different seats, though, their presence will hardly be felt at the final stage of the electoral battle. The LF this time has fielded 26 new candidates out of 42 seats in the state, with over ten candidates who are below 40 years of age. Among the 42 LF candidates, six candidates are women. LF also fielded an adivasi candidate in a general seat. While selecting candidates the LF, as on previous occasions, emphasised on the political background and commitment of the candidates, tested role in public life, acceptance with common people. The TMC on the other hand with its game plan to dilute the serious political domain has chosen to field candidates to avoid internal squabbles. And most of them have remained divorced from public, political and social life. For reasons understandable, the TMC leaders know, better than others, the fate of public scrutiny of the state government performances and the performances of their MPs in the outgoing LS, at the time of voting. The corruption charges against the top-level leaders of the TMC within such a short span of time made the situation much difficult, to say the least, for the ruling party. They are busy in answering the charges, drumbeating the oft-repeated promises and accusing the Left for all the ills of the government. So, the TMC has no other option but to design a new camouflage in the elections, which perhaps also forced them to take shelter behind the film stars and celebrities. The BJP too is banking on the celebrities in some of the constituencies to make its presence felt. The BJP state unit though trying to pose as a force opposed to the present ruling party in the state, has failed to hide its covert alliance with the TMC, so glaringly exposed in the speeches of Modi and BJP president Rajnath Singh in Kolkata. Assuring to support the demand of dividing West Bengal, the BJP with their negligible strength has forged an alliance this time too with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to win the Darjeeling seat. It is the same long-cherished double-speak style of the Saffron Brigade that the BJP’s state unit leaders in Kolkata are giving TV bytes against the further division of West Bengal. The BJP has also gathered support of another divisive outfit named Greater Coochbehar in Northern part of Bengal. The LF on the other hand has criticised the ruling TMC for mishandling the Darjeeling issue and the divisive and opportunistic politics of the GJM. It is also a matter of public experience that the TMC, now in an unwieldy position, has always been hand in glove with divisive, communal and Maoist forces. TMC’s supremo’s tall but empty promise to transform North Bengal into a new ‘Switzerland’ has already proved to be a mindless ‘joke’ among the common people of North Bengal. Desperate to find a suitable new ploy, the TMC’s irresponsible steps in such a situation will only damage the long term interest of the people of West Bengal. The 16th Lok Sabha poll in West Bengal highlights importantly a fight to restore democracy and democratic rights of the people of the state. Against huge money and muscle power of the TMC and its all-out terror tactics, the LF is fighting with the growing mass support. Awareness seems to be on the rise during the campaign that the decisive victory of the LF in West Bengal will surely strengthen the prospective Left democratic and secular alternative nationwide and will translate the people’s earnest urge for a secular pro-people non-Congress, non-BJP democratic government at the centre. Party’s Facebook, Twitter, Website and lakhs of copies of booklets and Appeal of the LF are drawing wide response from people hitherto apathetic towards Left’s viewpoints on principled issues of national importance.