KMC Polls

Election without violence is unthinkable these days. Even municipal and panchayet polls are now scenarios of large-scale violence. Murder is also part of the game. Murder is now as normal as anything else. The law enforcing agencies are simply on-lookers because they are there to serve the ruling elites and execute their strategic plan.

18 April. The city of Kolkata witnessed musclemen in full array. The occasion was  the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls. Preventing voters from entering polling booths, driving out opposition agents, rampant false voting, use of bombs and bullets—these elements combined to form a spectacle that is probably unprecedented in the annals of municipal polls. It is not that such incidents did not happen earlier, or that the CPI(M), now in opposition, behaved like innocent babes while in power. But the dimension and scale of electoral malpractices this time have surpassed all previous records. Of course, the conscious passivity of the police forces deployed for the polls was one important factor; the police preferred to remain mute spectators. The Police Commissioner of Kolkata has once again demonstrated his determination to remain loyal to the ruling party. For one thing it is ingrained in habit of the overwhelming majority of the IPS officers to act as faithfuls of the ruling party in every state. The earlier Police Commissioner was removed from his post because he, in the immediate aftermath of the murder of a police officer, declared that he would not pay any heed to the political colour of the assailants. The State Election Commissioner, however, initially did not toe the line of the Chief Minister or the Police Commissioner, and said that the number of complaints suggested that polling had not taken place in an ideal atmosphere. Intriguingly enough, he ate many of his words the very next day. Why he did so is anybody's guess. A sub-inspector was critically injured by a bullet shot by TMC goons near a booth of north Kolkata. In truth this incident created anti-establishment sentiments among the law enforces.

The two largest circulating Bengali dailies have reported the situation more or less impartially and one of them in an editorial, has commented that Mamata Banerjee could not repose faith in the judgment of the electorate. It may be mentioned in passing that this daily played an important role in projecting Mamata Banerjee against the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government. Of course, the Chief Minister, who has ostensibly lost all sense of shame, is unlikely to pay much heed to such comments and opinions. But the question is how her party could create such a scene of terror.

One plausible answer to this question is that by using the public exchequer, the TMC has been able to create a large army of militant loyalists all over West Bengal. Lavish and continuous donations to clubs from the public exchequer in the name of promotion of sports—there were, however, no guidelines on how the money should be spent—have been an effective method of creating 'die-hard committed supporters'. Given the present level of the consciousness of the people, creation of such an army of the unemployed by using public money is not a difficult task. Besides, many rowdies, in the wake of the TMC becoming the ruling party, have switched their loyalty to it.

Those who have grown in age can recall the assembly election of 1972 in which the Congress massively rigged the polls. In 1977, this rigging machinery, in the face of popular anger, was rendered impotent and in many cases, Congress musclemen took to flight or even turned covertly against their bosses. During 2009-2011, the voting machinery of the CPI(M) failed to deliver the goods owing to the rising popular wave against it. In the countryside, the switch of loyalty of earlier musclemen to the TMC is a familiar picture. It may be said that West Bengal is waiting for a return to the situation of 1977 polls. For the time being, no strong political force capable of fighting effectively such electoral farces is in sight.

Vol. 47, No. 43, May 3 - 9, 2015