Death — whether in natural calamities, accidents or election violence — is always expressed in numbers. The higher the number, the bigger the crisis. And by that yardstick, Bengal's panchayat poll violence this time is not too alarming.
The number of deaths during the 2003 panchayat polls under the CPI(M)-led Left Front — highest so far even without the faintest trace of any opposition — was 35, while 17 died this time, same as in 2008.
Then what makes this election the bloodiest ever? It seems the ruling party deliberately created the hype on violence, by letting its leaders — both district and state-level — go wild on violent threats and insults at poll rallies.
The top award for provoking and directing violence through public rallies goes to Anubrat Mondal, Birbhum district president of the TMC, who surpassed several MLAs and MPs when it came to the actual craft.
There was a method in Mondal's madness. He asked his men on June 2 in Rampurhat of Birbhum district not to allow the opposition candidates to submit their nomination papers. It was followed dutifully in 17 districts — of the 19 districts in the state, there are no panchayat polls in Darjeeling and Kolkata — and the TMC went away with more than 10% seats uncontested even before the polls began.
Next, Mondal told another rally that independents —mostly former TMC men —should not be allowed to contest and divide the party's vote-base. Their houses should be burnt down to stop them. And if the administration tried to protect them, the police should also not be spared.
Immediately after the speech, houses of independents were attacked and one independent candidate was killed. When asked by a television channel, Mondal — pokerfaced — said, "It was a slip of the tongue."
Banerjee too defended Mondal everywhere, even in the assembly, saying since he had apologised to her personally, there's not much scope for discussion on this subject.
The sequence looks like a well-thought-out plan. While foot soldiers create confusion, provoke mostly non-fatal violence and take the eyes off the big picture, veterans — such as panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee — tranquillise the state machinery, stonewall the election commission and make central forces ineffective.
The state election commission managed to bring in central forces to conduct the poll. But Pradip Bhattacharya, state Congress chief, said, "The police looked the other way and the central forces were not utilised when we could not file nominations for 20% of the seats. Then, rigging and violence marred the polls."
At this point, Banerjee and Mukul Roy, her second in command in the party, began the final and superbly crafted push: Harp on the conspiracies of the Centre, the BJP and, of course, the CPI(M) and claim that the polls were free and fair.
Roy said after the polls: "The polls have been peaceful. For the first time, people were allowed to vote. One must remember panchayat polls in 2003 and 2008 under the Left rule, where hundreds of people died."
It has worked so far. It helped complete the cycle of Parivartan — change, in loose translation — at the grassroots level before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The TMC will surely have an edge in the 2014 elections if it controls the zilla parishads.