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FEATURE/OPINION/BY INVITATION

Bengal Now: Irnonically TMC Legitimizing Entry of BJP


'Murder of Democracy'
The only other election news in recent times apart from Karnataka Assembly polls has been that of Bengal Panchayat polls, marred with violence, deaths, intimidation. Panchayat elections in Bengal have regularly witnessed violence since the 1980s. However, the scale of the violence has significantly increased this time. According to an appeal of lawyer Pradeep Chakraborty to the Kolkata High Court, pleading for rejection of the entire Panchayat Polls, a total of 24 deaths in violence are reported, apart from around 150 injured, of which 60 are in serious conditions. The legitimacy of the election process has been challenged, politically and in the courts, also by the parties in opposition to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The Supreme Court has directed the State Election Commissioner (SEC) to withhold declaring the results for nearly 20,000 seats where the Trinamool Congress won uncontested. The SEC has failed to function as an autonomous agency established by the Constitution of India ,“vested” with the role of “superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to the panchayats and municipal bodies.”
TMC 'Development Impact'
The ruling TMC later had a massive victory later and has won in 90 per cent of all the seats. A jubilant TMC said the result would boost the party ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election as the rural poll was the last major electoral event in the state before it. In other words, the Trinamool Congress has gained a literally unprecedented stranglehold over rural self-government institutions. Without condoning wanton violence in any form, it must be accepted that a large part of the rural electorate in Bengal does admire policies like Kanyashree (cycles and education to the girl-child), Sastho-bandhu (healthcare for the poor), and making of rural roads and schools. Add to these, TMC government patronage to local clubs, madrasahs, imams, and now pujaris also added, et al, which have all paid it rich electoral dividends.
BJP 'Entry in Rural Bengal'
Even before the panchayat polls, BJP was already on the rise in vote- share in Bengal and at the cost of CPM and Congress, while TMC has been increasing its voteshare and maintaining the lead all throughout. According to a senior state BJP leader, it was the first time that the party has been elected to the gram panchayat level in every district of the state. Clearly these polls were a litmus test for the BJP before it goes for the big haul in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Amit Shah’s strategy has always been treating Bengal rural polls as ‘quarter-final match’ before 2021 assembly polls. In Nadia, parts of East and West Midnapore and Burdwan districts, the unimaginable has happened; at the grassroots, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the CPI(M) have quietly closed ranks against the Trinamool Congress (though this has been officially denied by the CPI(M)). The pattern of quiet collaboration by parties that are not officially partners has taken place, with the Congress and CPI(M) working together in Malda and Murshidabad districts. It is clear today that the TMC has used violence to scare away the CPI(M) and knowingly or otherwise, has made room for the BJP to make a more forcible entry in Bengal hinterland.
'Left-Congress Bonhomie'
After the Bengal panchayat polls, the state is looking at a new political landscape in which a pulverised Left has been replaced by the BJP. The situation today is that without an official pre-poll alliance between the Left and Congress, both will be simply washed out in any future elections in Bengal. Already in several districts, both unofficially cooperated with each other. Last CPI(M) Politbuoro meeting concluded in favour of an all out unity against Hindutva politics. So, once dead enemies, Left and and Congress will see the Yechurian Principle of bonhomie between them grow in flesh and blood ahead.
'National Opposition Unity'
Electorally speaking, next year's parliamentary polls is what all parties are waiting for. The context is provided by the Trinamool Congress' clear objective of winning all 42 Lok Sabha seats. It is difficult to see, as things stand, any outcome other than Trinamool winning an overwhelming majority of seats. From the outset, it seems clear that the CPM will win nothing after the two it managed to win in 2014. Last time, the Congress won four out of five seats in Malda and Murshidabad. It's pretty certain that it won't be able to repeat that feat. It belongs, then, to the BJP to spoil the Trinamool Congress' party. In 2014, the party won from two constituencies. One of them was Darjeeling, which is not relevant in this context since there are no panchayats in the hills. The second was Asansol. BJP has made unexpected and significant gains in tribal-dominated areas of three districts like Bankura, Jhargram and Purulia. It has almost matched the Trinamool in Purulia, the only district in which the Opposition has aggregated more seats than the ruling party as far as gram panchayat seats go. If there is TMC-Left-Congress united opposition to BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, as is the attempt of one school of thought with the blessings of Laloo Yadav, Devegowda and even Yechury, there will be a clean sweep of Bengal by this trinity, which, in any case, is not an easy thing to evolve in the first place.
Bengal Tomorrow
The 2018 panchayat elections in West Bengal seem set to make history, for the wrong reasons. The interventions by the Supreme Court and the Calcutta high court, the capitulation of the SEC to pressure from the government, the unprincipled collaborations of sworn political enemies for electoral gains, the capsize of the police and the administration have sucked the legitimacy and credibility out of the process and eroded the idea of free choice and peaceful participation. It seems the saga of electoral violence in Bengal is here to stay.
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Is Currently Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy,Delhi mumbai




 
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