A G D
At the civil polls of April
2015, the ruling Trinamul Congress steamrolled the opposition by winning 114 of the 144 wards in Kolkata, and 70 of the 91 civic bodies across the districts of West Bengal. The opposition parties have blamed the ruling party of rigging the election by itimidation of candidates and voters, and of using a partisan police, and a manipulated poll panel. Despite alleged rigging by the ruling party, the CPI(M) led Left Front could win five civic bodies across Bengal and 15 seats in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. In the KMC, the BJP raised its tally to seven, from the earlier three. The Left bagged 23 out of 47 seats in the Siliguri Municipal Corporation. There was a twelve-hour state wide ‘bandh’ (Strike) on 30 April 2015, called separately by the Left Front and the BJP to protest ‘violent and rampant electoral malpractices’ during the just concluded civil polls. During the first state-wide strike called in two years by the Opposition, to protest alleged violence by the Trinamul Congress in the recent civic polls, there were scuffles between the sponsors of the bandh and their opponents, attacks and frayed tempers. The city wore a deserted look, with government buses plying with very few passengers. The underground metro rail services were normal. The strike was successful in the vast Asansol-Durgapur industrial belt, North Bengal and Kolkata city, where shops, business establishments and banks were closed.
The Trinamul Congress received 50.60% of votes in the area under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, compared with 37.07% in the 2014 Lok Sabha general election. In the districts, where municipal elections were held in 91 municipalities, the Trinamul Congress registered a vote share of at least 49%, 10 percentage points over the Lok Sabha election last year. Ever since it became mandatory to produce identity cards with photographs to vote, rarely has any party in West Bengal been able to register such a high vote share. The Left Front’s vote share has plummeted to 24%.
Violence in Bangladesh
Rounds of protests and violence began on 05 January 2015 in Bangladesh, the first anniversary of a general election that was boycotted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and returned Ms Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League to power. More than 100 people have been killed, some of them burnt to death in the firebombing of vehicles by opposition militants. There have been more than 220 ‘disappearances’ by the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anti-crime and anti-terror unit of the Bangladesh Security Forces, and other groups since 2009. Clashes between the two main parties have distracted attention from a dangerous upsurge of Islamic extremism, among other factions, nurtured in Bangladesh’s proliferating ‘Madrassas’, or Islamic schools. Government crackdown has targeted the media, arrested journalists, closed down television stations, disrupted mobile message apps such as Viber and Tango, and arrested opposition activists.
In civic polls in Bangladesh, political parties reveal their preferences by backing candidates of their choice. At the last week April 2015, civil elections, out of the 182 winners for the civic body in Dhaka North, Dhaka South and Chittagong, 152 had the blessings of the Awami League, while only 20 winners had the BNP-Jamat’s support. Many BNP candidates withdrew for the safety of voters and candidates.
Quake Ravages Nepal
An earthquake was long overdue in Nepal, since the last one in 1934, which killed more than 8500 people. On 25 April 2015, more than 7500 people were killed when a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.9, hit Nepal. The quake devastated the centre of Kathmandu, the capital, and triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 30 people, and trapped another 1000, many of them foreigners. The Nepal government declared a state of emergency in the devastated areas, and appealed for international assistance. It was feared the final death toll could reach the thousands. Kathmandu is a city of 700,000 people. Scores of people were feared to have died in the collapse of the Dharahara tower, a nine-storey 19th century landmark, and a popular view point for both locals and tourists. The historic Durban Square, a UNESCO world heritage site, opposite the old Royal Palaces, was also reduced to rubble. The quake, which was followed by a series of after-shocks, had its epicentre 50 miles north-west of Kathmandu, at a depth of seven miles, unusually close to the surface. At least 90 people were reported to have died over the border in India and Bangladesh. There is large scarcity of drinking water and food items in Kathmandu valley.
Vol. 47, No. 52, July 5 - 11, 2015