The Big Story: Battle of Bengal
The political rivalry between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal may be a case study in how a democratic battle should not be fought. This week, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the BJP a “militant organisation” which created social divisions and was “religiously biased”. Banerjee was responding to remarks made by state BJP chief, Dilip Ghosh, who had just threatened the Trinamool with “direct encounters” between party workers. What is more worrying is her stated intention to demand reports on areas where the BJP did well in the panchayat polls. The saffron party, she warned, won by tampering with electronic voting machines. Allegations that the BJP manipulates electoral outcomes have surfaced before. But, in this case, Banerjee seems unable to accept a democratic choice that did not work to her party’s advantage.
The Trinamool, for its part, did not cover itself in glory these panchayat elections. Even before the polls were held, the party won an unprecedented 34% of the seats uncontested, though the Supreme Court has directed the state election commission to hold off from declaring the results for those seats. Opposition parties claim widespread intimidation by the Trinamool to prevent them from filing nominations. This was accompanied by unchecked violence: while the BJP claimed 52 of its workers had been killed, the Trinamool counted 14 dead. In one instance, a journalist was stripped and threatened by Trinamool workers for reporting on the violence. Does Banerjee now express disbelief that some voted for other parties in spite of the Trinamool’s best efforts to bully and bludgeon both political rivals and the electorate?
Bengal has long been accustomed to domination by one party, whose cadres range the countryside, armed and organised. The baton has been passed down from the Congress to the Left Front, which perfected the culture of violence, to the Trinamool, which spent long years in the state opposition. As the BJP makes inroads in the state, it also uses the idiom of violence; witness the Ram Navami marches where saffron party workers cut across the Bengal landscape wielding weapons. However, though the BJP has made creeping gains in the state to emerge as the chief opposition, its presence is still thin on the ground.
But there is more to Banerjee’s vitriol against the BJP than fears of being upstaged in Bengal. On the national stage, she has emerged as one of the main opposition leaders taking on the BJP. There, the BJP is the Goliath that must be fought by a coalition of smaller regional parties, with or without the Congress. But Banerjee must distinguish between her role as opposition leader in Delhi and her responsibilities as chief minister of West Bengal. In Bengal, she must give adequate space to the opposition and respect electoral choices. While she accuses the BJP of intolerance, she should take care not to be held guilty of the same.
The Big Scroll
Shoaib Daniyal takes note of five developments in the panchayat poll saga.
Ipsita Chakravarty writes that in Bengal the BJP is using Ram Navami marches as an exercise in domination.
- In the Indian Express, Amitabh Mattoo, once advisor to former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, asks why Delhi does not trust the people of Jammu and Kashmir with real democracy.
- In the Hindu, Sameer Bhardwaj on the old Kashmir-Jammu dilemma and how the BJP was well placed to manage it but chose short-term political gains.
- In the Telegraph, Anup Sinha on how organised religion aims to create a single identity.
TA Ameerudheen on how Kerala might end its Raj-era orderly system after a police officer’s daughter assaulted a constable:
The orderly system was introduced by the British in the late 19th century and continues in many Indian states. Orderlies are supposed to run errands for the officials they are assigned to, guard them, drive them around, answer their telephone calls, and such. In reality, they are treated as house help. They are made to cook and clean in their officers’ homes, and even bathe pets, take children to school and families for shopping. Apart from constables, senior police officials take camp followers – civilians who work as cooks, washers and barbers in armed reserve police camps – as orderlies.