Vol. XLII No. 15 April 15, 2018

West Bengal:Brazen Assault on Democracy

THE three-tier panchayat elections in West Bengal is becoming a farcical exercise due to the unprecedented and shameful attack by the ruling Trinamul Congress to throttle the democratic process at the outset itself.  One has heard of rigging elections by capturing booths, but this is the first time the elections are sought to be rigged by capturing the administrative offices where nominations are filed.

From April 2 to 9, the period when nominations were to be filed for the three phase election, West Bengal has witnessed the shameful spectacle of armed Trinamul gangs surrounding the block development offices (BDOs), sub-divisional offices (SDOs) and even some offices of district magistrates.  Candidates of opposition parties who went to file their nominations were physically prevented, assaulted and driven away. The CPI(M) and Left candidates were particularly targeted among the opposition parties. The Congress and BJP candidates were also prevented from filing their nominations, though the latter were allowed to do so in some places.

The state election commissioner remained a helpless observer and refused to intervene. The Left Front decided to send its candidates enmasse to file nominations from the third day. Such groups of people led by CPI(M) and Left leaders, were also attacked, but in various places they braved the assaults and were able to file nominations.  In the process, CPI(M) Central Committee member, Ramachandra Dome, suffered a head injury; senior leader Basudev Acharya and state secretariat member Sujan Chakraborty were also assaulted.  Hundreds others suffered injuries.

The period for filing of nominations was over on April 9, after the state election commissioner rescinded his own order of extending the time for nominations by one day. Once again, he caved in to the pressure mounted by the TMC government.

As per the official figures released, the Left Front was able to file nominations for the gram panchayat in only around 41 per cent of the seats; in the panchayat samities in around 52 per cent of the seats and in 80 per cent of the zilla parishad seats. Even these could be filed in most cases after a bitter struggle.

It is not yet known how many seats have been declared won uncontested, but one estimate puts it as thirty per cent for the gram panchayat tier. This shows the extent of pre-election rigging.

While TMC goondaism was running riot, there was increasing resistance to this brazen onslaught on the democratic process. Eighteen Left, democratic and secular parties came together to protest these attacks. They held a mass sit-in outside the SEC office. They have resolved to continue the united struggle to see, that the elections that will be held, are conducted in a democratic manner.

The despicable tactics adopted by the TMC are not a reflection of the dominant influence it exercises in the rural areas. Rather, it indicates desperation at their loosening hold over the rural masses.

Anyway, the real face of the TMC has been revealed before the whole country. It has torpedoed the efforts of Mamata Banerjee to don the role of the unifier of the anti-BJP secular forces. She has been exposed for what she is – the leader of a lumpen mass of storm-troopers. The BJP can hardly wish for a more ideal political opponent.

(April 11, 2018)