The Union home ministry has warned the Mamata Banerjee administration that a number of Maoist-backed candidates may have already won several uncontested seats in the panchayat elections scheduled from July 2.
According to SEC officials, about 4,500 gram panchayat seats and 710 panchayat samity seats were won uncontested in the nine districts slated for the first phase of the rural polls. Three of these districts — West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia — are hotbeds of Maoist activity.
The MHA wrote to the state home secretary on June 20, citing similar attempts by Maoists in at least two other states. “The process of panchayat elections in Odisha and Maharashtra was vitiated through the use of coercive means by the Maoists to intimidate prospective candidates and prop up their own supporters. As a result, a number of representatives of the Maoists were elected unopposed,” the letter said.
Maoist sources revealed that the party’s entry into the arena of ‘proxy governance’ had triggered a major internal debate, with hardliners opposing the practice and arguing that it symbolised a hankering after mere ‘short-term relief’ which would make the overarching goal ‘of exposing the hollowness of the existing system and overthrowing it’ much tougher.
In Bengal, this debate was kicked off by Chhatradhar Mahato’s participation in the 2011 Assembly polls, which resulted in a virtual split within the party. The MHA, however, is not taking the Maoist ‘experiments with electoral democracy’ lightly and has advised states to implement a meaningful plan to provide adequate security. “Since the rural polls in West Bengal are to be held shortly… security arrangements must be strengthened utilising central armed forces deployed in the state for the anti-Naxal operations, particularly to ensure that cross-border infiltration does not take place, since this might subvert the election process,” the letter said. Acting on the advisory, the state government has asked for Bengal’s borders to be sealed for the duration of the panchayat elections.