Fascism, Bengal Style

The diverse ways that fascist tendencies are taking hold across the country barely obscures their common motivations and direction. Bengal is a classic example though not yet as ripe as Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. Poll-related violence in Bengal is endemic. It’s now part of this state’s political culture. It all started in 1972 during the Congress regime. The art of terrorising the opponents was perfected by the CPM-led left throughout their 34-year rule-or misrule. It doesn’t matter whether the ruling party is left or right. The voice of dissent is being crushed with iron hands. They talk of democracy day in and day out but what they practise is autocracy–pure and simple. Within a span of 35 days, including the polling and counting days, after the announcement of 3-tier rural polls in Bengal, 45 people lost their lives. Most of them were party workers and supporters owning allegiance to both ruling and opposition parties–Trinamul Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and CPM.

Criminalisation of politics is so pervasive in Bengal that it seems next to impossible to conduct free and fair elections at any level. While the State Election Commission virtually obeys the dictates from the ruling party, the state police establishment has the dubious distinction of behaving in partisan way. They don’t take even FIRs from opposition parties. Governor C V Ananda Bose blamed it on the Election Commissioner for his inaction to contain violence and stop blood-bath in pre-poll phase. Ironically the Governor appointed him a few weeks before the poll but this gentleman disappointed the people of Bengal miserably. The Commission would have to take the onus for its abject failure to reign in recurring violence. Citing gruesome incidents of Bhangar, Purulia, Cooch-Behar and Basanti Governor Bose threw a poser at the Commissioner ‘Who is to be blamed for those killings? The Commission has to answer’. No, the Commission is not answering. Children are crying, widows are crying. It’s the general scenario before every poll. All political parties use MMG–man, money and gun–to terrorise their rivals and in cross-fire many innocent people die. These days election in Bengal means festival of blood.

In a state where unemployment is sky-rocketing a large number of young men of working age group are being forced to become storm troopers of different political parties. Crude bomb-making has become a cottage industry across the state over the years. During vote season they get employment. Panchayat has power to disburse money and so the rat race to win seats leading to bloodshed.

In a situation where old industrial establishments are closing down while new ones are not coming up election is the only industry that employs some people at least periodically. Then panchayat functionaries are allowed to siphon funds otherwise reserved for rural development purposes. So violence is inevitable. Deindustrialisation of Bengal has been going on since the days of Nehru because of a deliberate anti-state discriminatory policy of the Centre. One may revisit Ranjit Roy’s “Agony of West Bengal”. That tradition continues unabated.

The scheme of decentralisation of power through panchayat and empowerment of people at the grassroots has failed. Corruption has been institutionalised through panchayat to such an extent that election is more like a ritualistic farce. No election really reflects the actual opinion of voters. Sometimes anti-incumbency factor works but many times it doesn’t. Despite huge allegations of corruption against the ruling Trinamul Congress their land-slide victory in Bengal’s Panchayat polls, virtually marginalising the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and CPM, illustrates among other things that the opposition parties are totally isolated from masses. They become active, rather super-active during elections.

In view of the continuing terror, murder, arson and killings before the panchayat polls one judge of Kolkata High Court opined in favour of stopping election altogether. But no party was interested in it. Attacks on voters escalate because the mute ’spectators’ are trying to assert through adult franchise guaranteed under the constitution. This attack has been central to the dismantling of democratic institutions and gestation of fascist currents. As most parties are dictatorial in nature people’s independent initiatives are needed to save democracy. More and more people should come forward to defy terror and demand justice. Even in the recently-held bloody panchayat election sporadic resistance here and there against malpractice in voting produced reassuring results.



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Vol 56, No. 4, Jul 23 - 29, 2023