November 28, 2021

Will the Court Directives Stop Lynching of Democracy in Tripura?

Haripada Das

THE safety and security of voters has become a prime issue of concern in the ongoing civic body elections in Tripura. Given the desperate aggressive moves of the ruling BJP right from the nominations to the election campaign in the recent urban body elections where the violence of the BJP activists was compounded by the inaction and abetment by the police, the voters are worried if they would even be allowed to cast their vote. 

It is to be noted that the BJP has won in seven urban bodies as armed BJP miscreants surrounded the offices of the Returning Officers (ROs) and prevented the opposition candidates from filing nominations. 

Now, as the polling date of civic body elections is nearing, intimidation of the opposition candidates and voters is also being intensified. Houses of the opposition candidates and their election agents are being randomly attacked by the BJP goons. The election rallies, demonstrations and door-to-door campaigns of the opposition candidates are being obstructed by them. 

The campaign materials of the Left candidates have been destroyed by the BJP activists in public in some places and secretly in the dark in some others. Neither the Election Commission nor any other civic authority has provided redress to the victims or has taken any action against the culprits. The police, instead of taking steps to contain the terror, is seen giving protection to the perpetrators.

The house of Samar Chakraborty, former deputy mayor of Agartala Municipal Corporation, was attacked no less than eight times during the election campaign. The latest attack on his house took place on November 11. The perpetrators were caught on the CCTV footage and yet the police took no steps to book the miscreants.

Rakesh Das, a CPI candidate from Ward No. 3 of Agartala Municipal Corporation and his fellow comrades were attacked in a deadly manner while they were on a door-to-door campaign in his constituency on November 19. Several of them were injured in this attack and one of them had had their hand fractured in the attack by the BJP miscreants. Though he lodged a police complaint there was no action. 

Nikunja Debnath, CPI(M) candidate from Ward No. 3 of Dharmanagar Municipal Council is a victim of pro-BJP partisan role of the RO. He was dragged by the BJP miscreants and forced to sign the withdrawal form before the RO on November 4, which was a government holiday and the RO, knowing well that no withdrawal should be valid under duress and that too on a government holiday, had accepted his withdrawal. To hide his illegal act, the RO deactivated the CCTV camera of his office going against the rules of the State Election Commission.

Citing the grave situation that is not conducive for holding a free and fair election, the CPI(M) Tripura state committee filed a writ petition urging the State Election Commission and the government to ensure a secure atmosphere in the state where the democratic spirit of the constitution is honoured and people’s mandate is protected from being robbed off. Alongside, there were three writ petitions on different issues.

On November 22, a two-member bench of Tripura High Court comprising Justice GS Chatterjee and Justice S Talapatra heard all the cases and after hearing both sides, the High Court made the following observation:     

“The allegations made in the writ petition have been appreciated by us and on the face of those, we hold back any comment on merit having acknowledged the limit of our jurisdiction. But we cannot shut our eyes from the serious allegations as made by the Writ Petitioner.”

“Finally, we should make a further observation that failure to discharge the obligation of conducting a free and fair election by the State Election Commission would wound the democracy critically. We hope that State Election Commission will act accordingly.”

Being directed by the  High Court, Jitendra Chowdhury, CPI(M) state secretary in a memorandum to the Election Commissioner submitted a list of the very sensitive polling stations on November 23 and urged him to set up a webcasting system to prevent manipulations in those booths. In the same memo, he also demanded security patrol in these booth areas so that ruling party miscreants cannot prevent opposition voters from coming to polling booths. He also demanded police protection for the opposition polling agents to and from polling booths.

Regarding the dispute over the candidacy of Nikunja Debnath, of ward No. 3 of Dharmanagar MC, the High Court directed the Election Commission to settle the issue within 24 hours abiding by the election conduct rules and report to the High Court. The other two petitioners, Samar Chakraborty and Rakesh Das were provided security before the hearing of their petition in the High Court which directed that the continuance of their security would be decided considering threat perception in the post-election period.

On the other hand, after hearing a writ petition filed by Trinamool Congress in apex court, a two-member bench directed the state government to ensure appropriate security measures for free and fair conduct of election in the urban bodies. The bench will hear the case again on November 25 itself, the day of the poll.

Now, the democratic-minded, peace-loving people of Tripura are eagerly waiting to see whether the Court directions would work to save democracy in the state, whether they would regain the festive mood of the election that they lost in the BJP regime or this election also would be again a recurrence of lynching of democracy.