The one-day panchayat polls

The State Election Commission and the West Bengal Government have at last reached a consensus on the day of holding panchayat polls. It will be a one-day affair – May 24. The total police personnel available is less than the number of booths – 58,000002E Naturally, there will be no policemen in many booths, creating an ideal condition for the stronger political party in an area to flex its muscles and deploy its musclemen to prevent fair and free elections. All Opposition parties, from CPI-M to BJP have accused the ruling TMC of resorting to strong arm methods against their candidates and workers. The TMC, on its part, has hurled the same charge against its opponent. The atmosphere of violence has engulfed the whole State. What the voters will be worried about on the polling day is whether they will be able to cast their votes peacefully or voters of one party will be the targets of attack by a rival party.
The atmosphere of violence that is created before every election reduces the whole process into a mockery. Our Chief Minister has given figures to claim that this year very few persons have been murdered in poll-related violence compared to previous years. But the question is why should a single person lose his life or sustain injuries on his person? Bihar is no less politically charges than West Bengal, but there are no poll clashes, deaths or injuries at the time of elections. A fierce Assembly election battle is going on right now in Karnataka. Nobody has been killed or harmed. Why should Bengal’s fair name be sullied again and again whenever there is an election?  All the parties have to own up their responsibility for the violence and disturbances. No party can afford to take a holier-than-thou attitude.
The problem is that compared to the Central Election Commission, the State Election Commission has very little power. West Bengal has seen several changes in the ruling party but no party has been able to prevent the open display of arms and striking fear by bike-borne activists. They have only indulged in mutual recriminations. It is time now to arm the SEC with enough powers to enforce law and order during panchayat or civic polls and direct the police to nab anyone indulging in violence. Without such powers, the SEC will continue to be what it is today – a toothless tiger.

Thursday, 3 May, 2018