Man, Money, Gun


Power corrupts. And panchayet power corrupts at the grassroots. Decentralisation of administration means decentralization of corruption as well. The scale of violence in the recently held panchayet polls in Bengal was so large that the State Election Commission (SEC) had to order repoll in 572 booths in 19 districts following recommendations of the District Magistrates though SEC reportedly received recommendations for re-polling in more than 1000 booths. This might be the highest ever number of booths for re-polling since 1980 when the first 3-tier panchayet elections were held in the state. In 2013, re-polls were held in only 100 booths. With mounting unemployment in the state, foot-soldiers are always available in plenty to do dirty work and all political parties are utilising them to have their way. These days peaceful election, local or otherwise, is simply unthinkable in Bengal. After religious festivals, election provides short-term job to hundreds of musclemen and lumpens. Even educated youth are being lured and tempted to violate law and indulge in rigging.

The panchayet polls were held on 14 May, but the violence continued even after the poll taking the toll of 20 human lives, while leaving many more wounded. Yet the general secretary of the ruling Trinamul Congress and the Directror General of Police have claimed that the polls have in general been peaceful. Police officers who are accustomed to serving the ruling parties' political interests and employing their subordinates to act as storm-troopers of the ruling entity are not expected to tell the truth, although they know very well that their salaries and other benefits are not paid by the ruling party.

Before the polls, this writer had the opportunity to witness an incident of prevention of opposition candidates from filing nominations by TMC musclemen with the help of sticks, rods and firearms. The Opposition, lacking the strength and courage to resist, had to take to flight. Incidents such as these go a long way in explaining how the ruling party had won uncontested 34% of the seats in the three tiers of panehayets. This writer had been receiving first-hand reports from Bhangar for several weeks, and learnt how the police brazenly colluded with the local chieftains owing allegiance to the ruling party in beating up and harassing opposition candidates by all sorts of means at their disposal. This alliance also functioned fully on the day of the polls, and fortunately enough, its activities have been reported in the leading Bengali daily, which is also the largest circulating daily in the country. Surprisingly enough, the SEC didn't order any repolling at Bhangar in South 24 Parganas which witnessed massive violence, gunfight and killing during the poll.

One particularly sad incident that has taken place has been the death of one Sanjit Pramanik at Babla in the Nadia district of West Bengal. Sanjit, a post-graduate degree holder, used to look after the office of the local MLA. The booth where he was killed is located at quite a distance from Sanjit's place of residence, the sub-divisional town of Shantipur. As per the presiding officer's statement, he was among a party that went to capture the booth with firearms. They threatened the polling personnel into submission, and began to cast false votes when a large number of local people, armed with bows and arrows, gathered and caught four of them, while others managed to flee. These four were severely beaten up. They were rescued by the police and brought to Shantipur State General Hospital where Sanjit was declared dead. The local MLA went to the hospital and had to make a cowardly departure in the face of angry outbursts of the relatives and friends of the deceased. Sanjit's mother, as per her statement before the press, complained that her son had been lured with the promise of a job and led to death.

Even after many such incidents, the government and the DGP, Mr Surajit Kar Purskayastha, claim that the polls have been peaceful. Such brazen lies have ironically been exploded by the claim of the apologists of the ruling TMC that several of their workers and supporters were killed. This claim only reinforces the complaint that the government and the Election Commission that they have utterly failed to provide protection to the voters and polling personnel and thus revealed their incompetence.

West Bengal is now reeling under a spell of fear psychosis, redolent of a similar picture formed during the Indira-Siddhartha period of 1972-77. If one conducts a sample survey on the nature of expenditure of money in rural Bengal, one should have an insight into the actual state of this 'development'.

Barring the civil rights bodies like, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and 'Save Democracy', no political party seriously took to the streets to protest large-scale violence during polls. Politicians just finished their duty by making representation to the Election Commission that has been getting flak from various quarters from the very day of announcement of panchayet polls, for its inefficiency and alleged partisan behaviour. Opposition parties may now go to court to demand justice but court can do nothing unless masses are mobilised in their thousands to demand lasting peace and democracy and end of cycle of violence. Issuing mere press statement describing panchayet poll as farce is not going to alter the ground reality.


Vol. 50, No.46, May 20 - 26, 2018