Bengal clashes continue, Opposition seeks central forces’ deployment
The panchayat elections are scheduled to be held on July 8
Political clashes continued in West Bengal on the second day of submitting nominations for the high-stakes panchayat elections scheduled on Saturday as the Opposition approached the governor seeking deployment of central forces and the state election commission planned an all-party meeting to review the law and order situation, people aware of the matter said.
In Murshidabad’s Domkal, clashes broke out after Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers allegedly tried to stop candidates of the Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) from filing nominations, the Opposition alleged. On Friday, Congress worker Phoolchand Sheikh was shot dead by unidentified people in the same district’s Khargram, triggering a political tussle.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Saumitra Khan said that crude bombs were hurled by TMC-backed miscreants at the party’s candidates in order to stop them from filing nominations in Bankura district. The ruling party rejected the charges, saying that the opposition was levelling false allegations in order to draw attention away from the work done by the TMC on the ground.
The panchayat polls are scheduled to be held in a single-phase on July 8 and the nomination process for the polls is currently underway. The Opposition moved the Calcutta high court against the schedule and the HC on Friday observed that the time period for filing nominations prima facie appeared to be inadequate.
Political violence in West Bengal has come to be known as an unpleasant marker of every election season, a case in point being the previous panchayat polls in 2018 that witnessed large-scale clashes and nearly 20 murders, with opposition parties alleging that their candidates were not allowed to file nominations and were physically intimidated. In the 2018 panchayat polls, the TMC bagged around 90% seats, of which a staggering 34% were uncontested. The rampant violence that characterises the political process in the state has often been attributed to the ruling party of the day mobilising all the goons active on the ground and going after those who go against them. Any meaningful solution to this can be possible only if the electorate firmly decides to penalise parties that promote violence and reward those that deploy peaceful democratic practices.
In a letter to governor CV Ananda Bose, state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called for the deployment of central forces for “free and fair elections. “I have solid reasons to apprehend that a free and fair election to three-tier Panchayat in the month of July 2023 in West Bengal, would be a far-reaching dream. Therefore, I humbly solicit your good office to do the needful for conducting the said election under the direct supervision of the central forces. Your prompt action in this regard is highly solicited,” he said in the letter.
A BJP delegation led by the party’s state unit chief, Sukanta Majumdar, also met Bose at the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata seeking the deployment of central forces. “There was hardly any police presence during the nomination process in several places. There are only around 78,000 police personnel in the state. This is inadequate. Central forces are required to hold free and fair elections,” Majumdar said.
The TMC hit back at the BJP and blamed it for orchestrating the violence.
“The BJP doesn’t have enough candidates for the polls and is hence trying to paint a picture of lawlessness in the state by triggering violence. Mamata Banerjee and Abishek Banerjee have already said that no violence will be tolerated. TMC workers have been strictly warned not to retaliate in the face of incitement by BJP workers,” TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said.
In a statement, the governor said that they will take all the necessary steps to ensure a smooth election process.
“Ever since the announcement of the panchayat elections, political parties have been flooding the governor with requests of intervention to ensure peace and harmony during the election. They came out with a number of suggestions expressing their apprehension about the likelihood of ‘muscle raj’ in the coming elections in the state. The governor assured them that the elections will be held in a free and fair manner,” the statement said.
Sinha also held a meeting with the governor to discuss the commission’s stand on demands for extending the date of filing nominations for the panchayat polls and to explain steps taken to contain incidents of violence, officials aware of the matter said.
After the meeting, Sinha said that the panel may consider extending the dates for filing nominations, according to the news agency PTI. “We are going to review the situation and may contemplate extending the date,” PTI quoted him as saying.
According to an official, the state poll panel was likely to hold an all-party meeting on June 13 to address the grievances of different parties.
“All political parties have been invited to the meeting scheduled on Tuesday. There will be discussions on the law and order situation in the state. We would also like to hear the grievances and demands of the political parties,” PTI quoted an official as saying on condition of anonymity. he said.
- West Bengal