Poll Violence

Ever since the announcement of West Bengal assembly polls, the TV channels and influential newspapers have been producing reports of pre-poll and post-poll violence. During the first three phases of the polls, numerous incidents including killing of election agents by the forces of the present ruling party, were reported, including the callousness of the central forces and the subservience of the state police forces. In the succeeding phases, the intensity of intimidation and terror somewhat lessened, owing to the alertness of the Election Commission and a partially pro-active attitude of the police and the central forces. Even then, blatant instances of false voting have been shown in the media. What is more disquieting is the recurring post-poll violence.

Of course, pre-poll and post-poll violence is not alien to West Bengal. This has been witnessed many times before, in the assembly polls, panchayet polls and municipal polls. This violence typically takes four distinct forms. The first, usually observed during panchayet polls, is to prevent political opponents from fielding candidates at all. The second is to go to the voters and intimidate them in a mild way. "Even if you vote for him, he will not be able to form the government. So why should you court trouble?" Mamata Banerjee expressed this attitude in a brazen manner when she repeated ad nauseam that the Election Commission would go away after a few days, and then she would take stock of everything. It simply meant that if she returned to power, she would punish those policemen who did not act according to her dictates. When pre-poll violence fails to deliver the goods, post-poll violence comes in to fill the vacuum. The third is to prevent voters from casting their votes by application of muscle power manifested in capture and jamming of booths, intimidation of polling personnel, preventing voters on the way to polling booths etc. This was witnessed on a large-scale in the 1972 assembly polls, and to a milder extent during the period of Left Front rule. The fourth is to directly attack the opponents and their supporters. Latest developments have demonstrated that the threat issued by Mamata Banerjee has yielded some results in this direction; a significant section of policemen has decided not to antagonise the ruling establishment.

It is not that such phenomena was absent during the period of the Left Front. People of Bengal can remember an incident in which two CPI(M-L) activists, namely Biren Ghosh and Sailen Misra were severely beaten by CPI(M) goons in a village nearing the town of Bolpur immediately after the 1987 assembly polls. In that town and the neighbouring area, various shades of Naxalites had a significant presence. Hence a successful bandh was observed in protest against the attack, and the attackers fled the area. Similar instances of pre-poll and post-poll violence were there in different parts of West Bengal, although unevenly and in varying proportions.

In respect of both pre-poll and post-poll violence, the present dispensation seems to have surpassed all records. Brutal killing of a polling agent on 21 April near the polling booth in Domkal, Murshidabad, while the polling process was going on is as barbaric as it is horrifying. A minister openly arguing with polling personnel, while his protégés were casting false votes, is another sight that rouses only indignation.

Finally, one word about the formation of the army of hooligans. One section is constituted by deserters who have not long ago served the CPI(M). The larger section is formed by lavish donations to clubs and by the syndicates, who supply substandard building materials at higher prices and enjoy the protection of the ruling party.

Whatever the alleged misdeeds of the CPI(M), the Congress and their allies, what the TMC has already done by way of pre-poll and post-poll violence shows an intense desperation.

Vol. 48, No. 45, May 15 - 21, 2016