Violent Panchayat Election in West Bengal Challenges Trinamul Congress' Rule
Kolkata: The Panchayat Election, which witnessed an unprecedented bloodbath in West Bengal on Saturday, has thrown the ruling Trinamul Congress into a new and major challenge– joint resistance by the opposition– at the grassroot level for the first time after it came to power here in 2011.
This is evident from the casualty figures, most of which belong to chief minister Mamata Banerjee's party. Among the 19 people who were killed in the large-scale violence a day before, 12 alone including a candidate were from the TMC which is not only rare but has also raised eyebrows of the top leadership of the party as the Lok Sabha polls are less than a year away.
In comparison to the number of TMC workers' deaths, BJP, CPI(M) and Congress, which are in the opposition, however suffered less casualties. Two workers each from the three parties died in the clashes while the remaining victim was a voter. Initially, many in the TMC imagined that this Panchayat Election, like the previous ones in 2013 and 2018, would be another one-sided game where they would have their way, flexing muscles.
However when the polling got underway on Saturday, there was an outburst of public anger against the TMC over it's alleged links in a series of scams, from government teachers' recruitment to public welfare schemes, which affected the voters at the grassroot level. Riding the public mood, the opposition parties also showed resistance and struck the ruling party. Instances of TMC workers getting tied to lamp-posts and thrashed by angry villagers also surfaced.
Furious at the opposition's role, state minister Shashi Panja alleged, "The opposition parties are marketing violence. We don’t want a single death to take place but the majority of those who’ve lost their lives are TMC workers. Of the total deaths that have taken place during the Panchayat Elections, the majority of them are TMC workers. If, indeed, TMC was instigating the violence, as the ‘biased’ media has been alleging, why would they target their own workers?"
Midnapore BJP MP Dilip Ghosh however claimed, "TMC leaders say most of the victims belonged to their party. But those people were ultimately people of this state. TMC knows it can't win any election without sponsoring violence. It also made the state election commission (SEC) defunct to ensure no central forces' deployment at the booths."
His attack against TMC came a day after SEC chief Rajiva Sinha acknowledged that the central forces could not be deployed at all the polling booths despite orders from the Calcutta high court. He had said on Saturday, "According to the HC order, we initially decided to deploy one central force trooper in each of the 60,000-plus booths which did not happen. The figure became one-fourth i.e. 15,000 booths." The SEC has ordered repoll in at least 697 booths on Monday.
BSF which had sent it's troops for the rural polls also slammed the SEC. BSF DIG (Eastern Command) Surjit Singh Guleria said, "We did not get the list of sensitive booths though we wrote several letters to the SEC seeking information on them and raised it in meetings. On June 7, the government responded with only the number of polling booths. It did not share the locations or details of sensitive booths."
He added, "We were told the DM, SP or state police would inform us about the places of deployment. So, the monitoring did not happen by the force coordinator. There were 59,000 troops of central armed police forces and state armed police which arrived from 25 states for election duty. But they were not adequately utilized at the sensitive booths.”
Meanwhile governor CV Ananda Bose flew to New Delhi on Sunday evening and is expected to meet union home minister Amit Shah to discuss the poll-violence in the state.