Politics of violence and of opportunism in West Bengal


While she dines with the Congress and the Communists in Bangalore, no leaders from these parties will question Mamata Banerjee on her human rights record, an atrocious record which has very badly affected the cadres and workers of these parties as well.

Barun Ruidas, a Dalit, was the polling agent for the BJP candidate in Khunberia village under the Garbeta Assembly of Midnapore west. He was active, vivacious and the lotus for him is a sacred symbol denoting the eventual triumph of the BJP. Like most of his co-workers in the BJP, the election for Barun was a season akin to a festival, a period of frenzied activities, of connecting with and reaching out to people, passionately making a point, calling out political opponents, lampooning them, decorating the village and the surrounding area with festoon, flags, hoardings and wall-writings and organising street corner meetings and door-to-door campaigns every day. It was not an occasion to settle scores. But this approach seemed missing in the activists of the ruling TMC.

This time around, though they did not tear down posters and flags, an act that would give away, like previous times, the fact that they had not mended their ways, they had planned to create mayhem on polling and counting day and the days after the result. Barun was abducted by a gang owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress, beaten up and urinated upon by the gang.

Gauranga Biswas, of Santipur, Nadia, a Dalit, BJP candidate, was beaten up till he bled from the head and fell unconscious. His daughter and wife were threatened with bombs and sickles saying that his grandson would be flung on the ground and killed. When I visited Gauranga in the hospital ward, his traumatized son told me how the TMC’s armed goons had entered the hospital to threaten and warn them. When I visited the Gauranga’s village, later, and went around meeting the voters and our supporters, I met a large number of women, who were angry, indignant and helpless, they were being threatened and terrorised, while unexploded bombs were lying around near the village pond, an area often frequented by children.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, under whom rests the maintenance of the law and order in the state, has maintained a stoic silence. Her nephew and Member of the Lok Sabha from Diamond Harbour has also been silent. Perhaps their obsession with the situation in Manipur has led both the aunt and her nephew to overlook the oppression of Dalits in their backyard. Not only have the police not acted, in most of the cases they do not act, they play second fiddle to the Trinamool Congress’s bike borne armed assailants. No one from the ruling party has condemned the heinous act nor has the demand for clamping NSA or for bulldozing the houses of the perpetrators been made. Since they belong to the TMC, the system and party is on an overdrive to protect them.

Numerous BJP activists, workers and supporters such as Barun have been at the receiving end of Trinamool Congress’ vengeance politics during the just concluded panchayat elections in West Bengal. They had never brought the rancour of politics in their day-to-day lives. Earlier there was a semblance of continuity and peace in the villages once elections were over. Yes, the CPM’s cadres, in the past, would terrorise villages, send across white shrouds for the women of the families which saw contestants, it would unleash armed bike-borne gangs “harmads”, but once the elections were over, there was a gradual return to normalcy, but not anymore. The TMC has made politics and political participation and choice intensely personalised and vitiating.

A decade of lumpenisation of the political space in West Bengal, by a party like the TMC mainly consisting of groups led by district strongmen, devoid of a disciplined and ideologically trained cadre base, has introduced a dimension of intolerance and vengeance at the village level. Besides terrorising political opponents, driving them out of their villages and towns, mostly in mofussil areas, these groups are also tasked to levy political tax and raise resources by indulging in illegal trades and benami transactions of various kinds. The acute competition for fund raising and hoarding often leads to violent intra-factional clashes, leading to bombing, blood and injuries. In the past few months leading up to the panchayat elections several such TMC factions clashed across the state. Since most of the levy is raised at the panchayat level these armed factions unleash a virtual reign of terror which usually starts from the day election is declared.

As I travelled across West Bengal from Murshidabad to South 24 Parganas, campaigning and then, post-elections, meeting a number of our candidates, workers, supporters and their family members, I met BJP’s women candidates who were physically assaulted by armed men, they were kicked, abused and their heads banged to the wall. One candidate I met in Howrah, who had put up a brave campaign and had earned wide popularity in the village and would have won had not the TMC’s cadres hijacked the counting, recounted how she was repeatedly kicked in the stomach. She had undergone a caesarian operation a few weeks back. The assailants belonging to the same village recognised her and yet continued to rain kicks and blows.

Most often the assailants are from the same village, or the neighbourhood and are known faces in the village. Hockey sticks were used in abundance, each lot was replaced after they broke by repeatedly being used to strike, one young worker in tears told me, ‘Dada, they beat me like they would a mad dog, with chains and hockey sticks, I know each one of them, yet they can never take me away from the BJP, we will stand up again.” Most of them were bludgeoned on the head, some fell unconscious, some were lucky to escape alive.

The police are reluctant to register FIRs, the State Women Commission looks the other way and the woman ministers in Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet have been silent, they have often assisted or facilitated this loot of votes. While BJP candidates were not allowed to enter the counting stations with more than one agent, and were searched relentlessly, the ruling TMC’s lumpens and “brownshirts” were allowed to enter in hordes, carrying pistols, bombs and sticks. The State Election Commissioner, its officers, the police, the BDOs, the DMs, in most cases abdicated their responsibilities and gave up on their impartiality.

While she dines with the Congress and the Communists in Bangalore, no leaders from these parties will question Mamata Banerjee on her human rights record, an atrocious record which has very badly affected the cadres and workers of these parties as well. It is an irony that is being absorbed with indignation by the members and workers of these parties. They see how in their obsession to unseat one man – Narendra Modi – their leaders have joined hands with those who are maiming and killing them on the ground. It is an indignation that the pack of leaders, gathered for the Bangalore jamboree, will very soon have to address. If they don’t, they risk losing the ground beneath their feet.

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