Poll violence and after

Rural Bengal witnessed the bloodiest panchayat polls in recent memory on Monday. At the time of writing, ten deaths have been reported. The victims include activists of all the major political parties – the TMC, Congress, CPI-M and BJP, besides others. Every possible violation of the elections rules was committed – mass stamping of ballot papers, burning and breaking open of ballot boxes, snatching of ballot boxes, hurling bombs by the score. Miscreants opened fire at many places on their political opponents. The day belonged to members of organized gangs, owing allegiance to this or that political party, covering their faces with black cloth or handkerchiefs. They had the State to them – for the whole day.
Judging by the scale and intensity of operation by the gangs of criminals, each political party had fully planned their operations well in advance. What is baffling is the inaction of the police and the helplessness of the State Election Commission (SEC). In most places where disturbances took place, the miscreants operated in the presence of policemen who looked on as passive spectators. TV channels showed tapes of criminals brandishing firearms within polling booths, scaring stiff the presiding officers and their staff. In one case, a minister physically assaulted an activist of a rival party in full public view and before video cameras. The question is: what did the police, the administration and the SEC failed to prevent this large-scale eruption of violence? Why known miscreants were not rounded up earlier? Why raids were not carried out to sieze bagfuls of bombs hidden by known criminals masquerading as political workers?
What happened throughout the day on Monday has not only sullied the name of West Bengal in the rest of India but, what is more, given a handle to the Centre to intervene. The onus of the violence will have to be taken by the Trinamool Congress and the Government it runs. The paralysis of the police and the administration to intervene and control the violence was inexplicable. The only possible explanation is that the inaction was deliberate. The Opposition parties have called the panchayat elections a farce and demanded de noveau elections including those seats which the ruling TMC won uncontested. A spate of litigations is to be expected. In the end it is the Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee whose moral authority has been dented. As the State’s Home Minister, she failed to control either her party men or the widespread lawlessness. It may prove costly.

Thursday, 17 May, 2018