June 18, 2023

WB: Left Candidates File Nominations for Panchayat Polls Repelling TMC Terror

Subinoy Moulik

THE previous panchayat polls in Bengal held in May 2018 saw reckless violence as the Trinamool-backed miscreants forcibly prevented opposition candidates from filing nominations. Consequently the TMC had bagged about 34 per cent of the total seats uncontested. The elections turned into a farce. This time also attempts are on to muzzle democratic voices and decimate the opposition. But, in the meantime, the situation has changed. Anti-Trinamool, anti-BJP forces have gained momentum under the leadership of the Left. So the attempt to take away people's democratic rights will not go unchallenged.

After months of dilly-dallying, the State Election Commission on June 8 suddenly called for the three-tier panchayat polls in West Bengal on July 8, apparently hoping to catch the opposition unprepared and give the ruling party total control of the local bodies. Furthermore, the SEC has chosen a very short deadline for filing nominations so as to put the opposition at further disadvantage. The last day for filing nominations has been scheduled on June 15. It was however seen that the administration itself was not fully prepared for this hasty announcement. So it was not at all surprising that the required nomination forms and allied papers were not available at the BDO offices on the first day of submission of nominations.


What has actually surprised many is the preparedness of Left activists to submit nominations. Right from the beginning, braving all odds, Left candidates are going ahead in district after district to collect and file nominations. Even in Birbhum, where in the last polls Trinamool did not give a chance to contest in any seat of the zilla parishad by using their miscreants, this time in the first two days of submission of nominations, Left candidates have submitted nominations in 60 per cent of the seats. In some places, the ruling party, following its old strategy, has attempted to snatch nomination papers by surrounding the block office with armed miscreants but faced counter-resistance and realised that this time it will not be so easy. But there is more to the story.

Ironically, while the TMC top brass including its deputy supremo Abhishek Banerjee are constantly paying lip service to the need for free and fair elections, a Congress worker has already been killed in Murshidabad. Trinamool miscreants with sticks, bamboos and other weapons have been seen on the rampage at many places, and the police have been forced to arrest a local-level committee president of Trinamool for carrying a revolver in public. Realising the dire situation, the State Election Commission has enforced Section 144 from Monday, June 12, within one km of the nomination centres, which many fear may give additional advantage to the ruling party's miscreants. The biggest problem in this case is that people do not have any confidence in the law-enforcing role of the police.

That their mistrust is not unfounded and that the TMC, desperate to retain its declining power base, is going to ignore all these legal hurdles is evident from the intensity of violence that is escalating daily as the process of nomination filing progresses. On the third day of the nomination phase, miscreants with bombs and pistols tried to foil the nominations of CPI(M) candidates and attacked the Party office in Minakhan in North 24-Parganas district. AIDWA state committee member Soma Das Chakraborty was brutally attacked and suffered grievous head injury. Many others were wounded.  Next day, Bhangar in South 24-Parganas turned into a battle zone when ISF candidates were subjected to heavy brick-batting and bomb-throwing by TMC-backed goons. After overcoming all such attacks, the ISF candidates submitted their nominations.

In a separate development, the Calcutta High Court division bench of Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, in its verdict on Tuesday, June 13, did not interfere with the State Election Commission’s decision about poll schedule by showing the precedent of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The division bench said that the State Election Commission has to ensure the security of poll workers. CCTV should be placed in every booth or videography of the voting process should be done. In view of the series of political violence in the state on the eve of the panchayat elections, the Calcutta High Court has identified seven districts of West Bengal as sensitive. Central forces should be deployed there immediately. The seven districts where central forces will be deployed for panchayat polls are East Medinipur, Birbhum, North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Jalpaiguri, Hooghly and Murshidabad. The division bench of Calcutta High Court said it is monitoring the law and order and political situation in the state. It further said that the number of districts where central forces need to be deployed may be increased in the future.

Looking at the current scenario marred by violence, tension and uncertainty, it is difficult to say what the Trinamool will ultimately do. Although the Left-Congress, along with other allied secular forces, will make every effort to field anti-Trinamool and anti-BJP candidates in as many seats as possible, yet considering the past instances of undermining democratic processes, attempts of withdrawal induced through intimidation cannot be ruled out. Memories of the mayhem that ensued statewide on panchayat election day in 2018, leading to the death of at least 19 people, are still raw though five years have gone by. The Left and their allies are determined to resist the TMC onslaught and to ensure democratically elected panchayat bodies as per the constitutional mandate.


Reviewing the entire situation on the eve of closure of nomination schedule, the CPI(M) West Bengal state committee wrote a letter to the State Election Commission on June 13, drawing its attention to the fact that on the first three days, only about 44,000 candidates could submit their nomination papers out of a total of 73,887 constituencies. If on an average, 10 candidates per seat want to submit nominations, the number of intending candidates is nearabout 7 lakhs. Only two days i.e., eight hours are available. Again, it is easy to imagine a considerable period of time of these eight hours will be taken up by miscreants armed with guns, bombs, pistols etc who will try to prevent willing candidates from filing their nominations. CPI(M) wants to know how the SEC is going to make the submission of 7 lakh nominations possible in eight hours and whether SEC does not want all the willing candidates to submit their nomination papers.

CPI(M) has made the observation that the State Election Commission cannot provide security to the 403 centres in the state where nomination papers are being submitted. So the Party wants to know how the SEC will provide security for 78,799 polling stations on the poll day. It has further stated that till Tuesday thanks to Trinamool-police joint initiative, not a single candidate of the opposition parties could submit their nomination papers in more than 50 blocks in the state due to intense terror, attacks, threats, bombings, arrests of opposition candidates in false cases and so on. In 2018, no opposition party was allowed to contest in 34 per cent seats owing to the combined venture of the ruling Trinamool Congress, the state police and the State Election Commission. CPI(M) wants to know if the State Election Commission is working with the goal of helping Trinamool to break that record.

Reminding the SEC that the constitution has given it the duty and right to conduct the polls peacefully and fairly and not to preside over the attack on democracy, the letter ends with the following demands: i) All the intending candidates who could not submit nomination papers must be given ample opportunity to submit the same at SDO offices and online to the SEC itself. The precedence is there for this. ii) Security should be provided to all the intending candidates so that they may submit their nomination papers peacefully. iii) Armed goons who are responsible for destabilisation of the free and fair process of election must be taken to task. iv) The biased sections of police and civil administration must be removed from the election process.