Violence in Bengal polls

Kashmir Times. Dated: 5/16/2019 12:39:04 PM

Centre and WB govts must work towards upholding the rule of law

The flaring up of violence with bricks and bottles freely flying in clashes between the Bhartiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress in Calcutta during BJP president Amit Shah's road show on Tuesday is a shameful blot for a democratic country. While both sides are making allegations and counter-allegations and blaming each other for stoking the violence, this violent turn of events is not new to Bengal. Though there has been a decades old history of violence, throughout this election season, there have been several incidents of violent clashes particularly between the BJP and the TMC. Neither side appears to be holier. The election is about representative democracy but the continuous violence in West Bengal appears to be a war between goons from two rival gangs. Matching this violent discourse is the slug fest that is being witnessed on a daily basis between TMC leaders and the BJP top brass marring the election spirit with phrases like "Expiry PM", "Speed-breaker Didi" and "Democratic Slap". The war of words reveals a competitive arrogance on both sides. Few days ago, Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal took another authoritarian turn by jailing an ABVP activist for a social media meme of Banerjee. The post may not have been in good taste but the action is akin to the hounding of activists and media-persons by the central government led by Narendra Modi in the last five years, of which she herself has been very critical. Her bold stand against BJP and on the idea of a single party usurping power and controlling the country is appreciable but by resorting to such tactics, she has shown that she can be equally authoritative. Her tenure in West Bengal, though seen as a development era, has also seen an upsurge in political violence including targeted killings with most victims from the left-wing groups. Now the ire appears to have shifted towards BJP. These trends, revealing that political violence as a tool of vendetta politics and for safeguarding political ground is getting an increasing legitimacy from all political groups, augur well neither for democratic practices, nor for a civilized society.
As chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata has a moral obligation under oath of office to maintain law and order and peace within the state. But the entire onus of Bengal's increasing incidents of violence cannot squarely be put on her shoulders. The provocative moves and words of the BJP are equally responsible. Besides, it is in power at the Centre and has a major role to play in maintaining decorum. Overall, intimidation and threat is dominating the poll climate in the state with all political parties lending their support to musclemen to settle scores on the streets and make a complete mockery of democracy. While the BJP government at the Centre did not live up to the promise of free and fair election in the presence of armed central forces to avoid any blood-letting, the West Bengal state police and administration was obsessed with the idea of proving their loyalty to the TMC government. This perpetuation of violence and display of muscle-power creates an intimidating atmosphere where polling is controlled and manipulated through the course of the street battles and turns the people's mandate into a complete farce. With only one phase of election left, the violence has been stepped up and there is need for all stake-holders to bring down the frayed nerves to enable people to vote freely. The Election Commission of India as well as all the political parties in fray in West Bengal must play a role, not in fueling the fire, but in de-escalating these tensions and theatrics of violence. The rule of law must be respected and upheld.



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