Bengal Now: Irnonically TMC Legitimizing Entry of BJP
'Murder of Democracy'
The only other election news in recent times apart from Karnataka
Assembly polls has been that of Bengal Panchayat polls, marred with
violence, deaths, intimidation. Panchayat elections in Bengal have
regularly witnessed violence since the 1980s. However, the scale of the
violence has significantly increased this time.
According to an appeal of lawyer Pradeep Chakraborty to the Kolkata
High Court, pleading for rejection of the entire Panchayat Polls, a total
of 24 deaths in violence are reported, apart from around 150 injured, of
which 60 are in serious conditions. The legitimacy of the election
process has been challenged, politically and in the courts, also by
the parties in opposition to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The
Supreme Court has directed the State Election Commissioner (SEC) to
withhold declaring the results for nearly 20,000 seats where the
Trinamool Congress won uncontested.
The SEC has failed to function as an autonomous agency
established by the Constitution of India ,“vested” with the role of
“superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for
conduct of elections to the panchayats and municipal bodies.”
TMC 'Development Impact'
The ruling TMC later had a massive victory later and has won in 90 per
cent of all the seats. A jubilant TMC said the result would boost the
party ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election as the rural poll was the
last major electoral event in the state before it. In other words, the
Trinamool Congress has gained a literally unprecedented stranglehold
over rural self-government institutions.
Without condoning wanton violence in any form, it must be accepted
that a large part of the rural electorate in Bengal does admire policies like
Kanyashree (cycles and education to the girl-child), Sastho-bandhu
(healthcare for the poor), and making of rural roads and schools. Add to
these, TMC government patronage to local clubs, madrasahs, imams,
and now pujaris also added, et al, which have all paid it rich electoral
BJP 'Entry in Rural Bengal'
Even before the panchayat polls, BJP was already on the rise in vote-
share in Bengal and at the cost of CPM and Congress, while TMC has
been increasing its voteshare and maintaining the lead all throughout.
According to a senior state BJP leader, it was the first time that the
party has been elected to the gram panchayat level in every district of
the state. Clearly these polls were a litmus test for the BJP before it
goes for the big haul in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Amit Shah’s strategy has
always been treating Bengal rural polls as ‘quarter-final match’ before
2021 assembly polls.
In Nadia, parts of East and West Midnapore and Burdwan districts, the
unimaginable has happened; at the grassroots, the Bharatiya Janata
Party and the CPI(M) have quietly closed ranks against the
Trinamool Congress (though this has been officially denied by the
CPI(M)). The pattern of quiet collaboration by parties that are not
officially partners has taken place, with the Congress and CPI(M)
working together in Malda and Murshidabad districts.
It is clear today that the TMC has used violence to scare away the
CPI(M) and knowingly or otherwise, has made room for the BJP to
make a more forcible entry in Bengal hinterland.
After the Bengal panchayat polls, the state is looking at a new political
landscape in which a pulverised Left has been replaced by the BJP. The
situation today is that without an official pre-poll alliance between the
Left and Congress, both will be simply washed out in any future
elections in Bengal. Already in several districts, both unofficially
cooperated with each other. Last CPI(M) Politbuoro meeting concluded
in favour of an all out unity against Hindutva politics. So, once dead
enemies, Left and and Congress will see the Yechurian Principle of
bonhomie between them grow in flesh and blood ahead.
'National Opposition Unity'
Electorally speaking, next year's parliamentary polls is what all parties are
waiting for. The context is provided by the Trinamool Congress' clear
objective of winning all 42 Lok Sabha seats. It is difficult to see, as
things stand, any outcome other than Trinamool winning an
overwhelming majority of seats. From the outset, it seems clear that the
CPM will win nothing after the two it managed to win in 2014.
Last time, the Congress won four out of five seats in Malda and
Murshidabad. It's pretty certain that it won't be able to repeat that feat.
It belongs, then, to the BJP to spoil the Trinamool Congress' party. In
2014, the party won from two constituencies. One of them was
Darjeeling, which is not relevant in this context since there are no
panchayats in the hills. The second was Asansol. BJP has made
unexpected and significant gains in tribal-dominated areas of three
districts like Bankura, Jhargram and Purulia. It has almost matched the
Trinamool in Purulia, the only district in which the Opposition has
aggregated more seats than the ruling party as far as gram panchayat
If there is TMC-Left-Congress united opposition to BJP in the Lok
Sabha polls, as is the attempt of one school of thought with the
blessings of Laloo Yadav, Devegowda and even Yechury, there will be a
clean sweep of Bengal by this trinity, which, in any case, is not an easy
thing to evolve in the first place.
The 2018 panchayat elections in West Bengal seem set to make history,
for the wrong reasons. The interventions by the Supreme Court and
the Calcutta high court, the capitulation of the SEC to pressure from
the government, the unprincipled collaborations of sworn political
enemies for electoral gains, the capsize of the police and the
administration have sucked the legitimacy and credibility out of the
process and eroded the idea of free choice and peaceful participation. It
seems the saga of electoral violence in Bengal is here to stay.
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Is Currently Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy,Delhi mumbai