TRIPURA: BJP Turns Panchayat By-election into a Mockery of Democracy

Haripada Das

UNDER the terror regime of the BJP, the panchayat by-elections held in Tripura has become a mockery of democracy. The BJP hooligans, who have intimidated, destroyed properties and physically tortured Left members to withdraw nominations from the earlier panchayat elections, in a similar fashion have prevented the Left candidates from filing nominations in the by-elections. The police, once again limited themselves to being silent spectators.

By-elections to the three-tier panchayat is scheduled to be held on September 30 and nominations were scheduled to be received from September 4 to 11. As many as 3,207 out of the total 6,111 seats in gram panchayat, 1,616 out of 419 panchayat samiti, and 18 out of 116 zilla parishad would be filled in the by-elections, held across 35 blocks.

However, 80 percent of the vacant posts have arose as Left Front members were forced to resign after the earlier panchayat elections only after March 3, when the BJP-IPFT alliance won the majority in the state assembly elections.
Despite the extreme levels of intimidation from the ruling party members, the Tripura Left Front committee has resolved to contest in the by-elections to safeguard the democratic process that the Left parties have struggled for decades to instill in the grassroot levels of the local bodies.

Tripura had a tradition of celebrating elections like a festival, except during the Congress-TUJS coalition regime in 1988-93. However, the magnitude of violence unleashed on the very first day of filing of the nominations, on September 4, only indicates that the elections are going to be a farce.

Several block development officers (BDO) who are also returning officers of the poll-bound seats of respective blocks, have called for an all party meeting in their office chambers on September 4. 

BDO, Bamutia RD Block of West Tripura convened an all party meeting and representatives of CPI(M), BJP and INC attended the meeting.  At about 10.15 am, when the RO was about to start the meeting, about 40 to 50 BJP workers barged into the meeting room. They questioned the RO on why opposition members were invited to the meeting. They forced the members of opposition parties to leave the meeting and ultimately the meeting could not be held.

Before dragging the opposition members out of the meeting room, they checked the personal bags of each of the members to see if they carried with them any nomination forms. The ruling party goons threatened the opposition members of dire consequences if they dare to collect any nomination form. This entire ruckus happened in front of RO (BDO) Bamutia and the Police.

In a similar fashion, an all party meeting was convened by BDO Bharat Chandra, Nagar Block of South Tripura District. CPI(M), Belonia sub-divisional secretariat member Nirmal Bhowmik, and sub-divisional committee member Jyotsna Das were physically assaulted by the BJP hoodlums in front of the BDO office. The representatives of Congress and CPI(ML) parties were also driven out of the block. 

Durga Chowmohani Block of Dhalai district, Kamal Kar, Nibaran Malakar, both senior leaders of CPI(M) attended the all party meeting convened by the BDO. The moment they came out of the meeting room, the BJP workers blocked their way, manhandled them, snatched away the nomination papers they collected from the block office and tore them into pieces.

At Kathalia Block of Sepahijala district, in the all party meeting convened by BDO, no worthwhile discussion could be held because 25 to 30 BJP workers jammed the chamber of the RO and started aggressively abusing the CPI(M) representatives namely Nani Paul, CPI(M) local committee secretary and Abdul Karim, Party leader and chairman of Kathalia panchayat samity. The CPI(M) representatives had to be escorted back to their home. A bike belonging to Abdul Karim was damaged by the BJP miscreants.

In the same way, all party meetings convened by the concerned ROs in Mohanbhog and Nalchar RD Blocks were marred by the violence of the BJP workers. 

In Bishalgarh Block of Sepahijala district, BJP workers thwarted the all party meeting convened by the BDO, by blocking all paths leading to the BDO office so that no opposition member could attend the meeting. They displayed a threatening board at the gate of Santosh Biswas, CPI(M) Bishalgarh secretariat member, not to move outside the home. The same group of BJP workers attacked the CPI(M) Bishalgarh sub-divisional committee office. They pelted brick bats targeting the inmates of the office and kept the office gheraoed from September 4 to 5. They kept the CPI(M) office gheraoed in the presence of a batch of police.

In Kakraban, Jirania and Old Agartala Block areas, BJP workers set in a frightful atmosphere to prevent anyone except the BJP to file nomination papers. Persons who dared to collect nomination papers were chased away after snatching the nomination papers.

Bike brigade of BJP workers are openly threatening the opposition candidates including those of Congress party with dire consequences, if they field the nominations. In some Block premises, BJP workers erected makeshift sheds and anybody approaching the block office has to satisfy the queries of the BJP watchers and only then they would be allowed to go inside.

The BJP has not even spared the IPFT members when it came to filing nominations. On September 10, there was a serious clash between two warring groups of BJP and IPFT at Boxanagar block of Sepahijala district. The police had to resort to lathicharge and bursting of teargas to take control over the situation. The IPFT workers in retaliation attacked and ransacked the house of a BJP MLA at Jampaijala and wrecked BJP office in that area. At Killa Block area of Gomati district, IPFT called for 48 hours bandh on September 10 protesting arbitrary nomination of chairman of block advisory committee (BAC). Similar clash between BJP and IPFT took place at Jubarajnagar block of North Tripura district on September 11, inviting lathicharge and imposition of section 144 in the area.

Deputation of Left Front leaders   
The Left Front committee led by Left Front convener Bijan Dhar, on September 6, brought to the notice of the Commission about the undemocratic events that were happening with the passive support of the police and the general administration.

In district and sub-division levels also, the Left leaders met the authorities and demanded immediate measures for restoration of peaceful atmosphere conducive to the conduct of free and fair election.

The Tripura Left Front committee in their memorandum demanded police escort to the intending opposition candidates while submitting the nominations. The sought arrangement for alternate places for submission of nomination papers at concerned DEO (DM) offices, removal of BJP workers squatting in block premises.

The also demanded the BDOs to lodge FIRs against the BJP miscreants who thwarted all party meetings in their official chamber. But till now, no measure was taken.

So far, nominations have been submitted by the Left Front only in four out of the 35 blocks, namely Kadamtala, Kalachhara and Panisagar of North Tripura and Ambassa of Dhalai districts.

CPI(M) Tripura state secretary, Bijan Dhar in a press meet on September 11, unequivocally condemned the attitude of the ruling BJP to turn the by-election into a one-sided affair and strangulating the dissenting voices. Taking into consideration the events, Bijan Dhar strongly demanded the State Election Commission, to either cancel the ongoing election process or change the schedule of the election so that all the intending candidates have the opportunity to file their nominations.

CPI(M), Tripura state committee has contributed Rs 23 lakhs to the Kerala  Chief Minister Relief fund. Though people, in general, were very much responsive, mass collection of relief fund was not an easy task for the Party. In this relief fund collection drive, BJP workers prevented Party leaders and workers in 23 places, physically assaulted 15 workers, house of one Party leader was gutted and 17 others of Party workers were attacked for participating in the fund collection.

At least in three places, boxes including collected money were looted by the BJP workers. Three Party offices including two district offices were attacked for organising fund collection.  This is not at all a surprise in Tripura that none of the perpetrators involved in these mischievous activities was arrested by the police. In spite of that, wherever the Left Front workers could reach out defying BJP terror, the people generously contributed to the relief fund.

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