The Big Story: Election farce
Monday saw Bengalis vote for the three tiers local government across the state. The panchayat elections took place amidst clashes between political workers, booths being captured and voters being pressured. At least 18 people were killed in the violence.
The ruling Trinamool Congress tried to parry criticism by pointing to the fact that, if measured by casualty numbers, violence in this election has actually decreased. This might be true in a somewhat restricted sense. In 2003, for example, at least 61 people were killed in election violence. However, this comparison does little to support the Trinamool’s claims that the situation was normal. Even before the first vote was cast, the ruling party had got a headstart because as many as 34% of all gram panchayat seats have gone uncontested. This figure puts a serious question mark on the legitimacy of the election.
The Trinamool tried to pass over this egregious figure by arguing that the Opposition did not have enough organisational strength to even put up a candidate in these constituencies – an explanation not many are buying. Observers have pointed to a campaign of intimidation to stop nominations from being filed. The state election commission helped by giving in to the state government’s demand for a single-phase poll and, most confoundingly, actually fought back suggestions that nominations should be accepted over the Internet, a simple solution to help attract more nominations without the risk of physical harm.
The Trinamool’s belligerence hides a deep sense of insecurity. In areas such as Birbhum district, where the highest number of seats went uncontested, the Trinamool is losing ground to the Bharatiya Janata Party. In fact, the saffron party has become the main Opposition to the Trinamool on the ground, even if its numbers in the state Assembly do not yet reflect this. In some cases, workers of the two opposition camps – the Communists and the BJP – are even coordinating with each other on the ground to fight the Trinamool.
To add to this incendiary mix are the BJP’s calls for President’s rule to be imposed in the state and troubling allegations by the Trinamool that the Border Security Force helped the BJP in some border districts.
Much of this is, of course, in preparation for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as the BJP tries to make inroads into the state and the Trinamool prepares to defend its turf. However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee must take a hard look at this election and the figure of 34% uncontested seats. An attempt to retain political power cannot be built on the ashes of democracy.
The Big Scroll
Shoaib Daniyal on the mass walkovers, BJP-CPI(M) alliances and four other bizarre things about the Bengal panchayat polls.
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“Budhua Munda added: ‘But now there are plans to rob us of our land and forest by taking decisions from the top, and we cannot allow that.’ He added that the gram sabhas of several villages took the decision to erect the stone slabs to assert the rights and ownership of Adivasis over natural resources.
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