West Bengal

WB Assembly polls | Violence intrinsically linked to polls in West Bengal, say experts

Security personnel keep vigil at a polling station after Election Commission ordered stopping of polling in Sitalkuchi, in Cooch Behar on April 10, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Halfway into the marathon 33-day, eight-phase Assembly polls in West Bengal, leaders of the two major political parties are already talking about how violent these ongoing elections are.

The ongoing 2021 poll is being compared to the 2018 panchayat polls in the State. While Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah said the Assembly polls have witnessed less violence than the 2018 panchayat polls, Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee pointed out that the ongoing polls have seen far more violence with central forces deployed at polling booths opening fire.

Violence has been reported in all four phases of elections so far, including killings of both TMC and BJP workers. However, the fourth phase on Saturday which saw five persons killed at Sitalkuchi in north Bengal’s Cooch Behar district has turned the spotlight on the violence. Four youths of the victims died when Central Armed Forces opened fire at a polling booth in Jor Pakti gram panchayat in the district.

An estimate, compiled by Professor of Political Science at Rabindra Bharati University Biswanath Chakraborty, based on media reports, points out that, 25 people have lost their lives in poll-related violence so far from the day notification for polls was issued upto April 11.

Of the 25 deceased, 11 are supporters of Trinamool Congress, 13 of the BJP and one is a nine-year-old child who died when a crude bomb exploded near his house, he said.

According to Prof Chakraborty, who is also a psephologist, so far 34 candidates have been attacked. Four Trinamool Congress candidates, two from the Indian Secular Front, two from Congress and one from Left parties were attacked.

“Neither Mamata Banerjee can avoid responsibility from the violence nor can Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The comparisons that these elections are less violent or more violent than panchayat polls also serve no purpose,” he said.

Prof Chakraborty, who says that Bengal has a history of violence being intrinsically linked to the poll process, feels that all parties should come on one platform and appeal to their supporters to refrain from violence.

“This poll-related violence in West Bengal appears to be in sharp contradiction to the social religious and spiritual reform movements in the State where all political parties refer to names like Shri Chaitanya Deb, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and much later Raja Rammohun Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar,” senior journalist Biswajit Bhattacharya said.

After independence, the main opposition party in the State, the Communist Party of India, went underground in the 1950s and the Naxal movement rocked the State in the 1960s and 1970s, he recalled, adding that in the Assembly polls of 1972 there was widespread violence and rigging under Congress rule.

Experts and political commentators point out that the 2018 panchayat polls where the Trinamool Congress won 34% seats uncontested and witnessed unprecedented violence. Mr. Bhattacharya said the seeds of the violence in panchayat polls were sown in 2003 when Left parties won considerable seats without contest.

Prof. Chakraborty said during the Left front regime violence was “strategically against the political opponents and the party was the tool”.

“The Left failed to successfully use the violence in the Darjeeling hills in 1980s and in Singur and Nandigram,” he said resulting in a regime change in 2011.

Unlike the Left regime where violence was used only for electoral purpose, the Trinamool Congress has legitimised it in all walks of life including in university and college elections, added Prof. Chakraborty.

Both experts agreed that West Bengal is caught in a vicious circle of violence and area domination which is reflected whenever any elections are held.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 6:55:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/west-bengal-assembly/wb-assembly-polls-violence-intrinsically-linked-to-polls-in-west-bengal-say-experts/article34304190.ece

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