Elections in West Bengal- a Terror Plot or Advent of The Phoenix?

//Ayan Pal//

For Kannada Version- click here

      Remember, remember
      The 5th of November
The gunpowder treason and plot
      I know of no reason
   Why the gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot

No, Rajkumar Roy was no Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the British parliament in 1605. He was an ordinary, jolly good fellow type teacher of Rahatpur High Madrassah in Raiganj, West Bengal, who was assigned the duty of presiding officer of booth no. 48, Sonapur FP school of 36 Itahar Assembly Constituency in the Panchayat Election of 2018. But what happened there is still a baffling mystery as his mutilated body was found next day on a rail track 25 kms away from his booth. Only future will tell whether this heart- trenching incident will be called as ‘November’ of Bengal politics but clearly it has affected the persuasion of the people of Bengal regarding polls which is already showing its repercussions in the ongoing general election and may redefine the structure of many future polls to come.

Polls in west Bengal have always been a bloody affair. Death toll has been recorded as 76 in 2003 Panchayat Election, 48 and 36 in the 2008 and 2013 version of it.In the 2018 one it was only 26, much lower than the previous ones. But the difference from it’s previous versions was the nature, realm and amount of terror. In 2013 a police officer named Tapas Chowdhury was shot dead during a student election nomination filing process in Harimohan Ghosh College, Kolkata. The last municipal election, held in 2015 also showed wide spread violence due to which many urban elites were unable to cast their votes. Even the ongoing General Election, a process rigorously monitored by mighty Election Commission of India, with the help of hundreds of companies of paramilitary forces, has seen murder of a voter within 50 meters of a booth, as well as events like clashes with security forces, rigging, bombing and firing frequently in each phase.

 

Birbhum: Voters queue to cast their vote at a polling station, during the 4th phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Birbhum, Monday, April 29, 2019. (PTI Photo)
Security deployment in West Bengal second only to Jammu & Kashmir

 

These facts show how much violence prevails in the State of West Bengal when it faces any kind of election, be it local or legislative. But what it does not show is for the local bodies elections , even filing nomination or counting the votes are also bloody affairs. During the last panchayat election, which is a three tire one, namely, the gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, and Zilla Parishad polls, a staggering number of 16814 GPs, (34.56%), 3059 PSs(33%) and 203 ZPs(26%)have been won by ruling TMC party unchallenged. A quick conclusion would be like it is a single party controlled state, but even any reluctant follower of West Bengal politics would know that from the time of independence this situation was never so bad , even during the 34 long years reigned by the Left-front. What is astonishing is Hon’ble Supreme Court’s view in this matter. There was at least 5 number of petitions filed in Calcutta High Court regarding various issues of Panchayet polls prior to its commencement. The issues included schedule of polls, security arrangements, obstruction in filing nomination etc. Unimaginable orders were passed by the judges, like allowing the filing of nomination via Whatsapp, and compensations to be paid to victims family by deducting the amount from the salaries of responsible officers! If only the Apex Court had taken the abnormalities regarding the poll results and the case matters of those filed in Calcutta High Court together, they would have gained a clear picture and may not have sanctioned this poll as valid one.

What exactly happened during the poll of 14.05.2018? Each and every person of Bengal knows that but only the official reports do not. The morning showed the day when large number of candidates were attacked in front of BDO and DM offices, by ruling party workers and goons to inhibit them from filing nominations all over the state. On the said day, the exact number of booth capturing, rigging, attack on voters and polling personnel will never be known. The whole election was conducted by West Bengal State Election Commission with the help of West Bengal Police, contractual Civic police, forest guards and homeguards. Armed with a mighty bamboo stick they were swamped in front of the goons armed with guns and hand-bombs. Even complete surrender to those goons could not save the forlorn polling personnel from the wrath of the thugs. Many of them returned home with bruise marks in their bodies, blood dropping from their torn lips and foreheads, fractured bones, shifted jaws ( literally)! Then came the news of the death of late Rajkumar Roy. People of Raiganj immediately started protesting by blocking the roads. They demanded answers like a) where was he during his last 24 hours of life, b) why the concerned RO was reluctant to his wife’s appeal? C)Why didn’t the said RO lodge an FIR regarding missing of an on-duty polling officer and so on. The administration was quick in replying that it was a clear case of suicide even before any official enquiry or any case report. They were also quick in booking the protesters under unbailable sections of IPC. Since most of the victims were teachers and non teaching staff of govt. run schools, they started protesting on social media and streets. The agitations were mainly unorganized and scattered, as no sustainable plan could have been taken. Also the opposition parties and teacher organizations controlled by them, refrained themselves from such protests. Though this step from their end can be rationalsed somehow, the role of the mainstream media was so biased that they not only shunned from publishing the news of such protests but also tried to spread hoax news like these protests were against the arrests of culprits responsible for late Rajkumar Roy’s death! Perhaps a curious Company Secretariat and Chartered Accountant can find the answer by looking at the Balance Sheets and Shareholding changes as well as changes in the Directorate levels of these media houses in recent years.

 

 

 

 

At this point some questions may come in anyone’s mind that why West Bengal is in such a disdaining and horrible state. This can be a point of research and therefore beyond the limits and objectives of this article. In a brief manner it can be said that the culture of marginalising the opposition by any means is not new in West Bengal politics. Based on mainly self- consuming agricultural and trade based economy, it’s revenue generation has been constantly under deficit. The present TMC government has come to power in 2011 riding on the anti- industry and pro agriculture movements like Singur Tata Nano factory and Nandigram Chemical Hub. TMC has maintained its stand by barring proposed Infosys SEZ and approving all type of illegal and absurd party worker based employee movements in various industries. This led to a large number of industrialists abstaining from investing here, and those already invested have already winded up their businesses. In such situations a state with long international border and high population density quickly goes down in the hand of Black Economy and that is exactly what happened with the flood of ponzi schemes( like infamous Sharada and Rose valley which are now under CBI investigations) and shell companies, real estate and supply( anything even kidneys!) syndicates, human trafficking, smuggling and so on. Government has almost stopped all kind of recruitment processes, dues to it’s workers are escalating but keeping a good track record of distributing freebies, organising fests in the name of any occasion. It is spending enormous tax payers money on beautification of the cities, has broken or mended rules to indulge the cream-leachers. In one word it has done everything that a government should not do.

West Bengal is demographically very interesting for any vote mongering politician’s point of view. The Dalit politics which prevails all over the country, had no sound base here. Based on the teachings of many stalwarts of Bengal Renaissance and idols like Swami Vivekanada, Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas, caste politics was always marginalised here. But the Mamata Banerjee government has not only rejuvenated this sector to gain votes, it has taken absurd schemes and treatments to spoil the minorities. As a result polarised pockets of votes have been created threatening the harmony of the people of Bengal and increasing communal tension.

The communal storm is looming over Bengal, with the advent of BJP as main opposition party and with a shattered economy under severe pressure, when a poll comes, the power mongers look at the opportunity of grabbing the cash flow of various Public Schemes as well as take control of the Black Economy and go out and out for it. They have little or no concern for the life or democratic rights of common voters or the polling personnel. Recently an apolitical forum representing teachers and other staff along with some educational enthusiasts named Shikshak- Shikshakormi-Shikshanuragi Oikyomancha tried to unite the polling personnel via social media, and started a movement to ensure the security of them with a demand of security by CAPF only. Depicting this duty as violation of Article 21 of Indian Constitution, they gave the slogans “ NO CRPF NO ELECTION DUTY” at various training centres. They also started e- mailing and meeting election officials from district to state level to convey their anguish. Under huge pressure, the Chief Election Commissioner had to release a press note ensuring the safety of polling personnel. This was an unprecedented incident in the history of Elections of India. Also the observers had to relocate the CRPF so that maximum number of booths are covered by them. Had this not been done, only people of Bengal know what would have happened in this election also.

Demagogues and dictators are running the Indian politics as well as governments for a quite long time. Somehow people even the educated ones are failing to judge between a “ strong government “ and a ‘totalitarian’ one. The result is showing by the weakening of democratic institutions and constitutional as well as social values. We have seen in the past that Civil Societies can be the fifth pillar of democracy and when all the remaining four get rusted, they can serve as the last frontier. Yes, they do have a high chance of fizzling out, but do we really have a choice? After all as Leon Trotsky said “ The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end”

Author is a teacher who is on election duty. He is also member of Shikshakormi-Shikshanuragi Oikyomancha, a forum to unite polling personnel (teachers and staff) in West bengal. 

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