Tuesday was a black day for Kolkata and for West Bengal. Unrestrained violence between the goon squads of the BJP and the Trinamul Congress in the centre of the city — as the outnumbered police force looked on — caused the destruction of the bust of renaissance man Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, whose bicentenary is being celebrated.
While political violence at election time is not unknown in any part of the country, the savagery inflicted on the artistic representation of one who stood for the best civilisational values anywhere moved a leading literary figure and Gyanpith laureate — who has been a critic of chief minister Mamata Banerjee's raj — to speak out against “saffron terror”. This day of violence will be remembered for long.
This Lok Sabha election has gone remarkably well since the day of the first voting on April 11. The polls were largely violence-free, barring stray incidents in West Bengal with the antagonism rising between the ruling TMC in the state and its principal challenger, the BJP.
Kolkata is no stranger to violence. The rise of the Naxalbari movement in the late 1960s led to bloodshed on the streets of this majestic metropolis, that was once the second city of the British empire after London, as the brutal police crackdown dominated the headlines. This was the first wave of violence in the great city in independent India. The second wave saw violent clashes between Congress workers and cadres of the CPI(M) as the latter was trying to establish itself as West Bengal’s most significant political force after the late Jyoti Basu became chief minister.
In these violent interregnums, ordinary workers of political parties and groups were involved. On Tuesday, on the other hand, the cadres clashed in the presence of BJP president Amit Shah, who had with him two of his party’s election candidates.
The Election Commission will be failing in its duty — as it has done practically all through the poll process for the Lok Sabha election — if it does not consider all aspects of the violence. The state government too is hardly blameless. It must rise above partisan considerations in dealing with the unpleasant situation that has arisen.
Every effort has to be made by the EC and the state administration to ensure that voting is not marred on Sunday by renewed bouts of violence. As the election takes place for parliamentary constituencies in Kolkata and areas around it, the already sharp rivalry between the BJP and the TMC is bound to get heightened.
This calls for a higher level of security precautions. The first two waves of violence in Kolkata coincided with turns in the political road. Is the present round a step in the same direction? We shall know soon, and much depends on the May 23 poll results....