West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at an election rally
File photo of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at an election rally| Bloomberg
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The BJP, the Left and the Congress party, in a rare show of unanimity, have termed the violence during the panchayat elections a ‘murder of democracy’.

A bloodbath is taking place in West Bengal as the state prepares itself to elect members to gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads. More than five people have already been killed. But the number of deaths cannot explain the ferocity and spread of the violence that has engulfed the state.

We have reports of Bahadur Murmu from Paschim Medinipur committing suicide after his wife filed her nomination as a BJP candidate for the panchayat elections. Her house was raided by Trinamool Congress members. Unable to withstand the pressure, Murmu consumed poison.

We have pictures of mobs armed with bamboo sticks, swords and other lethal weapons romping around in streets and village after village in Bengal. These are largely mobilised by the ruling Trinamool Congress to prevent candidates from rival parties like the BJP, the CPI(M) and others from filing nominations for the panchayat elections.

Basudeb Acharya, a veteran leader of the CPI(M) and a nine-term Member of Parliament, was severely beaten up. He was leading a group of candidates to facilitate a nomination. He erroneously believed that his seniority and stature would act as cover for his party members. He should have remembered that decency has never been the hallmark of the political culture of Bengal. His own party, CPI(M), never believed in it.

Candidates who somehow managed to file their nominations fear reprisal from the ruling party goons. So, many of them were forced to take shelter in their party offices. Their houses are being ransacked and relatives threatened.

Campaigning is a risky affair in most villages of Bengal. We have bizarre pictures of the members of the BJP and the CPI(M) marching together to nomination venues to ensure mutual safety from Trinamool workers’ attacks. Trinamool’s people are capturing the offices of rival parties.

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In hundreds of panchayats, Trinamool candidates are celebrating their uncontested victory as rival parties have been successfully prevented from filing nominations. The BJP, the Left and the Congress party, in a rare show of unanimity, have termed this a ‘murder of democracy’.

They have knocked on the doors of the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court for protection. The courts have intervened, but violence continues unabated. The Trinamool brazenly said its rivals were complaining as they lacked the organisational strength to even participate in the election process.

Trinamool strongman Anubrata Mondal even said that a net has been spread across the state to stop mosquitoes. For the gram panchayat polls, the ruling TMC has fielded 59,475 candidates, whereas the BJP could field only 27,789 candidates, and the Left managed to field 19,714 candidates. The ratios for the zilla parishads and panchayat samitis are similar. The ruling party has fielded more candidates than the actual number of seats, and other parties are way behind it. Mondal’s colleagues have mocked other parties by offering protection for their candidates, if only they ask for it.

One must remember that this is not happening for the first time in Bengal. In 2013, the Trinamool Congress had captured hundreds of seats unopposed. Kumar Rana, in an article in the Economic and Political Weekly (27 July 2013) thus described the situation: “The Birbhum district president of the Trinamool Congress, Anubrata Mondal, for example, urged his supporters from a public meeting not to allow the opposition to field candidates (Anandabazar Patrika, 3 June 2013). He also called upon his supporters to hurl ‘bombs at the police if they try to protect the Trinamool dissenters’.”

Another Trinamool leader, actor-turned-Member of Parliament, Tapas Paul, could not restrain himself from advising with dramatic fury that his supporters teach the supporters of the CPI(M) a lesson: “jutiye lamba kore din… keliye soja kore din” (“beat sense into them with your shoes… straighten them out with a thrashing”).

Another Trinamool leader, Monirul Islam, has threatened to behead a Congress leader.

These are a small sample of the mounds of terrorising statements that have been made by the leaders of the ruling party on many occasions in recent times.

What Trinamool is doing now in Bengal is only a replay of the kind of politics the Left had practiced and perfected in its long rule. Kumar, in his EPW article, reminded us that in 2003, the Left had captured 7,000 panchayats unopposed, calling it a proof of its popular support. Kumar called it a culture of political absolutism, which the Left had introduced in Bengal. It could be maintained only through political violence.

What Mondal is now employing is a tool fashioned by the CPI(M). The people of the state remember the call by none other than Brinda Karat, who asked her party members to administer “Dam Dam Dawai” (sound thrashing) to their political opponents.

It is also impossible to forget the image of Medha Patkar being dragged out of her car and slapped by CPI(M) workers for daring to enter Nandigram at the height of the anti-land acquisition movement by farmers.

An entire state was made subservient to or extension of the party. Loyalty to the party became a ticket to economic and social survival. The culture of ‘party society’ continues, only that the master party has changed.

The problem with Bengal, as a psychologist from Bardhaman explained, is that nothing exists beyond party politics. Your social stature is defined not by your professional achievement, but by your party affiliation. No space is beyond the gaze of the party. It has completely distorted the personalities of individuals and injects suspicion into community relations.

Violence becomes necessary to establish total control over society. The leash of violence is now in the hands of the Trinamool. But as the Left realised a decade back, the hands could change. An emaciated Left cannot take the leash back from the Trinamool.

It is not surprising that now the BJP is being widely viewed as a redeemer by the people. One should not have been surprised by the show of swords and other weapons in the Ram Navami processions.

It also shows that there is no respite for the people of Bengal from political violence.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.

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