People say the TMC is no different from the Left in using violence

It’s business as usual in West Bengal. Poriborton (change), which led to the defeat of the Left in the State in 2011, has essentially meant more of the same.

“Old wine in new bottle,” is how people see it across the sprawling administrative division of Burdwan, which used to be a stronger Left bastion than the rest of the State.

“The Trinamool Congress (TMC) has proven to be the best student of the [Left] Front. Didi [Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee] is doing exactly what the Left used to do for 34 years; only she has been a quick study. Within three years, Didi has put in place the kind of system that helped the Left maintain its stranglehold over the State for more than three decades. She is no different, be it in using violence to silence her opponents or appeasing minorities.”

These are just a few random observations from across Burdwan district, which voted in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to all three of its Lok Sabha seats — Burdwan Purba, Burdwan Durgapur and Asansol — in 2009 despite the Left Front doing badly across the State. But two years later, the Left won just nine of the 25 segments.

While CPI(M) cadres are citing conventional wisdom to argue that the four-cornered fight this time would help the Left hold its ground in Burdwan Purba and Burdwan Durgapur at least, the voters are not so sure. Many maintain that though the TMC has lost much of its sheen, the Left has not been forgiven.

The CPI(M) is aware of this and biding its time. The infighting within the TMC has begun spilling onto the streets, resulting in violence. “Initially, it was only the CPI(M) that was attacked, but now other parties are also being targeted,” says Apoorva Chatterjee, a member of the party’s district committee. This is borne out by complaints made by even the Bharatiya Janata Party, which began as an “also-ran,” but is riding the “Modi wave” to be a possible second runner-up in vote share, pushing Congress to the fourth position.

While the election has galvanised CPI(M) cadres, its leaders say it is not yet time to retaliate. “We have the strength to fight back but if we retaliate, it will be used as a pretext to unleash more violence on us.”

The TMC denies such charges. Minister Swapan Debnath, who is overseeing the party’s campaign in Burdwan Purba, dismisses these as the cries of a party unable to deal with loss.

However, the CPI(M) now says the people have begun resisting the violence. While there are still no-go areas where campaigning is being done in stealth, district secretary Amol Haldar says, “More areas are free after the campaign started.”

This is not the case in the more urbanised Burdwan-Durgapur constituency where several areas remain out-of-bounds for the CPI(M). On Friday night, the constituency saw a clash between supporters of the two parties, resulting in the death of a Trinamool Yuva leader, and subsequent violence elsewhere, raising the possibility of CPI(M) supporters staying home on polling day.

While it is now the CPI(M) that is crying foul, what is amply clear is that the State is miles away from breaking out of the vortex of political violence.