May 28, 2023

WB: Good Response to Mass Signature Collection Drive

Subinoy Moulik

Public opinion is growing increasingly against the Trinamool regime's actions, which are detrimental to the education sector and which deprive the poor people of their entitlements by embezzling funds from rural development projects. The successive revelation of various scams serves to highlight the extensive corruption that permeates all levels of the government. Despite the reluctance of the state police administration to take appropriate action, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have initiated investigations as ordered by the court. However, the investigation has been hindered by a clandestine understanding between the ruling parties at the central and state levels, resulting in a sluggish progress and the failure to take action against the masterminds of corruption.

In response to this situation, the West Bengal state committee of the CPI(M) has undertaken a programme to mobilise public opinion. As part of this initiative, a memorandum carrying the signatures of at least one crore people will be submitted to the chief justice of India, seeking judicial intervention against the pervasive corruption enabled by the ruling party. The signature campaign will continue throughout the month of May, and the public response thus far has been remarkably enthusiastic. Encouraged by this overwhelming support, Md Salim, CPI(M) state secretary, expressed hope that the number of signatures collected will exceed one and a half crore.

Currently, an extensive signature campaign is underway throughout the entire state. Party members are actively engaged in campaigning, distributing petitions in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, English, as well as Nepali, Santali, and other languages, to collect signatures. The aim is to gather support not only from Left supporters but also from all individuals who oppose corruption and seek the establishment of the rule of law and a robust democratic environment in the state. Booths and tables have been set up in streets and bustling shopping areas where large number of people gather. Temporary stages or speaker's stands have been erected in open spaces. Local Party leaders are addressing the audience, highlighting the main issues of the campaign. Both the central and state leadership of the Party are actively participating in the programmes organised in this regard.

The public response has been very encouraging, with many people eagerly stepping forward to put their signatures on the petition. In line with the campaign's objective of establishing a strong connection with the masses, there is ongoing close interaction between local residents and Party activists in the neighbourhoods. In rural areas, Party workers are actively visiting households, knocking on doors, and collecting signatures from villagers. Every effort is being made to ensure that the signature collection campaign reaches every village and hamlet across the region. Additionally, the campaign is prioritising the involvement of those who have been directly affected by corruption.

The campaign has made significant progress in making inroads into areas that were previously considered strongholds of the Trinamool party. One such example is the villages of Sinher Bheri and Khaser Bheri in Singur. Since the Trinamool government came into power in the state in 2011, the CPI (M) had faced considerable challenges in implementing any political programmes in these villages. Singur, like other parts of the state, has experienced widespread corruption and looting during Mamata Banerjee's 12-year tenure. Consequently, the situation in Singur has undergone a transformation. CPI (M) workers are now actively campaigning in every corner of Singur, with door-to-door signature collection taking place unhindered.

In the rural areas, whether it is Singur or the Jangal Mahal region, the Trinamool party's confidence in displaying its influence has been severely diminished. The increasing unity and vocal protest of the people in West Bengal against the divisive politics of the BJP and the misrule, corruption, and anarchy of the Trinamool Congress have been evident in the results of the Assembly by-elections in the Sagardighi constituency and the recent elections to the cooperative bodies held across the state. In this context, the CPI(M)'s signature collection programme against corruption and theft, and demanding democracy, has garnered a significant response. This is further evident in the active participation of a large section of people in protest movement programmes organised in the districts. The consequences of misrule had plunged many people into a state of despair with no apparent solutions. Therefore, when Left activists approach them with this petition to the chief justice of India, demanding swift action in the extensive corruption and the punishment of those responsible, people find it as an opportunity to voice their protest. This is why the campaign is generating such wholehearted and enthusiastic support.

Signature collection is going on across a diverse range of locations, spanning from the forested villages along the Jharkhand border to the riverine villages situated in the Sunderbans. Party activists are visiting households in villages located along the borders of Bangladesh and the state of Assam. In addition, CPI (M) workers are going door-to-door in the tea gardens of Jalpaiguri to collect signatures.

Party workers are conducting small meetings in the remote forested lands of Belpahari, where they are explaining the reasons for signature collection initiative. Dharmadas Sardar, secretary of the Belpahari area committee of the Party, emphasizes that they have not encountered any resistance or opposition to this programme. He further mentions that many people express nostalgia for the previous Left government, stating, "We were better off when the Left was in government." It is worth noting that between 2001 and 2008, the Maoist-Trinamool alliance was responsible for the killings of approximately 50 CPI(M) workers in the Belpahari area, with the intention of weakening the Party. However, when Party workers go door-to-door to collect signatures, they experience a positive reception. People still remember the Left Front government and their work, as evidenced by the warm gestures extended to them. Many offer mats to sit on and provide water to drink, even the poor people generously offer puffed rice (muri) as a gesture of hospitality.

Nandigram area committee secretary Mahadev Bhuinya said, "Starting this Thursday, we will commence the signature collection drive. Despite the Trinamool/Maoists' declaration to eradicate the CPI(M) from Nandigram, we have established signature collection teams in every panchayat. Our efforts will begin from Bhekutia, Nandigram, and extend to other areas like Sonachura and Gokulnagar, where we have faced relentless attacks since 2007 in an attempt to eliminate our presence."

Patharpratima, located adjacent to the Bay of Bengal, is a cluster of scattered islands in the Sundarban area. This block comprises 11 panchayats, and the signature collection drive is currently underway in each of them. In several booths in Ramganga, Banshyamnagar, and Achintyanagar, Party workers have  already covered 80 per cent of the total population. Satya Das, secretary of the area committee, explains, "People are willingly coming forward to sign the petition. Discussions take place during the signing process. The level of anger against Trinamool's corruption and embezzlement is so high that even in panchayats dominated by the Trinamool, no Trinamool leader dares to hinder the signature collection."

A similar scenario is there in almost every district, as well as in the majority of cities and towns throughout the state. In an attempt to impede the signature collection process, the Trinamool party made efforts to obstruct the campaign in Jadavpur, a southern suburb of Kolkata. Moreover, they resorted to attacking Party workers. In response, the Party organiSed a protest march the following day. Despite these challenges, the collection of signatures has not stopped.

 It is worth mentioning that there has been a gradual increase in people's overall participation in various programmes, including meetings, rallies, and other events. Furthermore, it is observed that disillusioned workers from the ruling party are joining either the Left or the Congress in different parts of the state, driven by discontent with their party's numerous scandals. Recognising the public sentiment, the chief minister and her party continue to postpone the panchayat elections. However, there is a growing demand for the establishment of corruption-free people's panchayats throughout the state. In light of this, CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim has called for further intensifying struggles for safeguarding the interests of the common people, by uniting all  democratic, secular, progressive people against the Trinamool-BJP. Overall, the fight for democracy has created a new atmosphere across the state, which is expected to deepen in the days to come.