The panchayat elections in West Bengal witnessed a dance of naked TMC terror that turned the elections into a farce.
There were bomb attacks, booth capture, ballot boxes set on fire or thrown into ponds, and attacks on journalists trying to cover this assault on democracy. At least 15 persons were killed and several.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) won 20,163 of the total 58,692 — that is 34% - seats unopposed: a record since the Panchayati Raj was introduced! 16,814 of the 48,650 gram panchayat seats were won by TMC uncontested, as were 3,059 of the 9,217 panchayat samiti seats and 203 of the 825 zilla parishad seats. This farce of thousands of “uncontested” victories of the ruling party is testimony to the fact that violence was used to keep rivals away even from filing nominations!
In one of the most gruesome episodes, a CPIM activist Debu Das and his wife Usha Das were locked inside their home and burnt alive just before the panchayat polls, by TMC men, in Namkhana in South 24 Parganas district.
The Trinamool Congress is baring tooth and claw to physically prevent political opposition from even contesting, and to rig the elections, thus proving that it is afraid of losing if indeed democratic elections are held.
A few more points need to be made. The State Election Commission’s role in the whole affair was extremely wanting – the institution surrendered entirely to the ruling party’s violence. Contrary to anything Mamata Banerjee may claim in her political pronouncements, TMC Raj is paving the way for the BJP and Sangh in West Bengal. The BJP propagandists are working to push the idea that the TMC’s terror can be countered only by the BJP which has Central backing; and they are using the TMC’s sorry record to discredit secular politics itself. As has happened in UP and Bihar too, the shallow and opportunist ‘secular’ posture of non-BJP ruling parties and Governments, shorn of democratic content only helped the BJP legitimise itself.
The TMC leaders like Derek O’Brien are trying to project the level of violence as ‘normal’, citing violence by the CPIM when the Left Front was in power. It is true that West Bengal is no stranger to panchayat poll violence. In May 1993, six agricultural labourers were burnt alive by CPIM cadre in Karanda village of Bardhaman district because they supported CPI(ML) in the panchayat elections (the CPI(ML) is still pursuing the effort to punish the guilty in the Supreme Court). The culpability of Left Front Governments too in ‘normalising’ political violence and strangulation of opposition forces (and thereby damaging the ability of the CPIM to be perceived as a credible force of opposition to TMC terror now) cannot and should not be denied. But in sheer scale and severity, there is no match for the kind of terror (including preventing nominations from being filed, and stamping ballots even as counting was in process!) that the TMC has unleashed this year.
In spite of the terror, democratic forces triumphed in some areas where movements have been strong. One such was Bhangor, where one villager was killed even in the run-up to the polls. Candidates belonging to the Committee for Protection of Land Livelihood Environment and Ecology (CPLLEE) won 5 out of the 8 seats they were able to contest. The five victorious candidates are Saluarah Bibi (Munsipara, Booth no. 92), Jahanara Bibi (Uttar Gajipur-Purbapara, Booth no. 91), Ajijul Mollah (Khamarait, Booth no. 85), Fariduddin Mollah (Bakultala-Mallikpara, Booth no. 88) & Esrafil Mollah (Machibhanga, Booth no. 83, 84).
CPI(ML) candidates won two Gram Panchayat seats: the Belaticuri seat in Bankura (won by Comrade Sulekha Nandi); and the Kalinagar (East) seat in South 24 Parganas (Comrade Chabi Biswas).