At least 16 people have been killed, from Jalpaiguri to Midnapore and over 500 people injured. Where armed TMC mobs could not reach opposition candidates hiding for their lives, they targeted their near relatives. Women and children were not spared. Their armed attackers beat them up, burning and looting their houses. There were several instances of male goons severely thrashing women publicly. Most opposition candidates not only withdrew from the contest, but some even began campaigning for the TMC, for dear life. A report, for Different Truths.
In recent times, no ruling party in Bengal ever faced the Panchayat elections as confidently as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2018, with only hours to go for the polls.
Most of its objectives have been achieved: its two-tier terror campaign (state-sponsored, according to the opposition) has proved effective at both levels already – during the filing of nominations and the subsequent campaigning. Sustained physical violence and relentless attacks against candidates of the Left front (LF), the Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the police remaining inactive, enabled the TMC to win a whopping 34% of the seats unopposed in the three-tier polls.
In the process, at least 16 people have been killed, from Jalpaiguri to Midnapore and over 500 people injured. Where armed TMC mobs could not reach opposition candidates hiding for their lives, they targeted their near relatives. Women and children were not spared. Their armed attackers beat them up, burning and looting their houses. There were several instances of male goons severely thrashing women publicly, as no one dared to resist!
Most opposition candidates not only withdrew from the contest, but some even began campaigning for the TMC, for dear life. ”We realise our mistake and now support the TMC for the ‘development’ they have carried out. Their leaders convinced us and we were never threatened,” — was a common refrain among opposition aspirants who switched over. Their grim expressions told a different tale.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee remained unfazed, even as the death toll mounted daily. “Kisyu hoy ni (Nothing has happened); there is peace everywhere. They (opposition parties) are cooking up stories and instigating attacks against our peaceful, disciplined followers. The media is running a fake news campaign. There is no law and order problem, I say”, she declared from several platforms.
Ironically, neither she nor the other TMC leaders explained why then their party sent a delegation to the President of India complaining that the opposition parties were consistently attacking and even killing TMC workers!
Clearly, the law and order situation was bad?
Banerjee now offered a different explanation ‘The violence is one-sided, nine of the 15 killed are our men’, said the Chief Minister, inadvertently endorsing opposition allegations.
With only a handful of police and similar forces to report for standby duty on May 14, the day of polling, the TMC is all set to unleash the third and final phase of its terror tactics on the polling day. It is only a matter of time before the party’s absolute victory in the remaining 66% of the seats at the gram panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad levels is achieved. Nearly 20,000 GP seats and no fewer than three out of 21 ZPs have been won unopposed.
The party has celebrated the first round of victory already presenting the unopposed candidates with certificates and showering them with green abir (coloured powder). Well, it might. It is only a step away from achieving what its supreme leader and her able commander, Minister of Transport Suvendu Adhikari, had declared as their target: to blank out the opposition totally, not letting them win a single seat out of nearly 55,000!
This is the first time that such a call has been given publicly by any ruling party in India on the eve of an election to create opposition-free (birodhishunya) panchayats at all levels! Finding nothing objectionable in such a call, the State Election Commission (SEC) did not exert itself to probe deeper.
All through the pre-poll run-up, the State administration dutifully carried out TMC”s orders. At the village level, this involved arresting opposition supporters and workers for any violence even if they had been the victims and keeping them in custody without bail. Thousands were rounded up and interned.
State Congress President Adhir Choudhury pointed out to newsmen and the courts during several rounds of litigation that by forcing opposition candidates to withdraw, the TMC and the administration had effectively disenfranchised over 1.5 crores out of the 5 crore voters, including over lakhs of first-time voters! But for the state government and the SEC, there followed no official rebuttal of this damning indictment: obviously, these were minor details that did not really matter in the background of the state-wide polls.
Directives issued by the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court (SC) did not help in improving conditions for the candidates who were forced to withdraw or voters who lost their voting rights as thousands of TMC nominees notching up impressive ‘unopposed’ wins! The High Court in a landmark order urged upon authorities to allow nominations filed online in a difficult situation. But the SC ordered a stay on this, giving a point to the TMC.
However, by slapping a similar stay on the SEC from confirming the unopposed winners as ‘elected,’ the SC also offered marginal relief to the frustrated Bengal opposition. ‘The SC would take up the matter of the unopposed winners only on July 3. By that time, the results of the polls would be known, May 17 is the day for counting. There is no reason for the TMC not to win massively against an already divided and dispirited opposition. So the chances are, those unopposed would also be eventually declared as elected,’ explained an observer.
For the TMC there still remained two areas of concern. The total lack of party discipline at any level became pitilessly evident, which should cause the Chief Minister much worry. It was common knowledge that the nine TMC men killed so far were victims of clashes with their party colleagues, who refused to accept the official candidate as their nominee. They put up independents in over 40% of the seats. They could not be persuaded to withdraw except in some cases, either by threats or promise of later rewards.
Secondly, the TMC lost its last chance of ascertaining the extent of its popular support by using its overdose of violence against the opposition. Most people felt, before the polling process began, that the TMC stood poised to win around 40% of the total votes on its own, which should ensure a comfortable win against a thrice divided opposition vote, given its relatively good record in carrying out rural development work.
‘By flogging the much-weakened opposition, the TMC only exposed its own hidden fears and doubts about its reach among the people, never mind its relentless publicity campaign about its positive achievements,’ says one analyst. ‘A growing, organised opposition party like the BJP would certainly take advantage of the TMC”s inexplicable nervousness.’
Photo from the Internet