Calcutta Notebook


The recently concluded three-tier panchayet polls in West Bengal have been viewed by many as a popular mandate for Trinamul Congress and its leader Mamata Banerjee. This interpretation could have been considered correct but for the fact that money and muscle power have been employed on a scale probably unseen in any of the past polls.

Yet money and muscle power cannot explain the whole. The memory of the last few years of the Left Front rule, particularly of the CPI(M)'s one-party dictatorship is still fresh and no strong alternative has emerged as yet. One peculiar phenomenon witnessed during the polls was the change of colour of erstwhile CPI(M) activists, who used to act as their political bosses' hands. They are now mostly employed as hands of the Trinamul Congress. The police forces at local, sub-divisional and even district levels too have switched their loyalty.

The internal strife among the ranks of the Trinamul Congress, however, erupted in many places and erstwhile Trinamul Congress workers contested as independent candidates in many places. Even before the polls they were subjected to threats, assaults and other types of torture, including even murder. The way Mamata Banerjee brazenly sought to defend the activities of a district president of her outfit and before that an MLA of her party at whose bidding the police allegedly killed a Trinamul worker has definitely tarnished her image. In such cases Trinamul activists have defied threats and won in quite a number of places.

In 2003 panchayet polls, the terror tactics of the CPI(M) paid dividends and a large number of gram panchayet and panchayet samity seats were won uncontested by them. In 2008, this method, although attempted in a large number of places. This time, the Trinamul Congress has used it more blatantly and openly and has been largely, if not wholly, successful.

The term 'partly' may be emphasized, because certain events occurring in the immediate aftermath of the polls have led many to surmise that this regime, torn as it is with its own internal conflicts, is going to be short-lived. One of these events, which has hit the headlines, is the murder of a block-level preident of Trinamul Congress by hired killers allegedly employed by a rival leader. And the family of the deceased has accused that self-same district president, whom Mamata Banerjee has shamelessly tried to defend, stands accused as having masterminded the murder. The recurrence of such events is a poignant pointer to the shape of things to come.

Another feature of the situation is that the CPI(M) is now courting some whom they had earlier tried to exterminate politically by all sorts of means. They are various Naxalite groups mostly operating locally. This commentator is witness to some such events in Birbhum and Burdwan districts, and it is clear that the CPI(M) now lacks enough bones and muscles to fight the terror campaign of Trinamul Congress.

The panchayet polls of 2013 can be likened to the 1972 assembly polls that installed the Indira-Siddhartha regime in West Bengal. The rule of rigging and terror boomeranged in 1977. Some such fate is possibly waiting for the Trinamul Congress. But the alternative for the people as a whole is not yet visible. Election politics without powerful mass movements is largely barren.

Vol. 46, No. 11, Sep 22 - 28, 2013

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