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From gram sabha to Lok Sabha: Why rural elections matter

Analysts say since a party’s panchayat poll victory prepares the bedrock for further political expansion in the state and governing a panchayat also means controlling a large pool of money, hence the massive violence during panchayat polls in West Bengal, which reported 15 deaths during the day.

kolkata Updated: May 14, 2018 23:44 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Security personnel walk past burnt ballot boxes lying on a road after miscreants ransacked at a polling station during panchayat polls at Rampur in South Dinajpur district of West Bengal, on Monday.
Security personnel walk past burnt ballot boxes lying on a road after miscreants ransacked at a polling station during panchayat polls at Rampur in South Dinajpur district of West Bengal, on Monday.(PTI)
         

West Bengal has a robust three-tier panchayat system. It also witnesses the bloodiest rural body polls in the country.

Monday’s panchayat poll has so far seen 15 people dead, including a husband-wife who were brutally burned to death, allegedly by goons owing allegiance to the Trinamool Congress (TMC). This, after an unprecedented 34% seats went uncontested (and in favour of the TMC).

For the first time, the high court even allowed filing of e-nominations in the wake of the rampant violence during the nomination process.

CPI(M) has squarely blamed TMC for this brutality. The ruling party quickly pointed out that in 2003, when the CPI(M) was in power, 40 people were killed in panchayat polls.

And amid the raging blame game between political parties, it is clear that for the parties in power in West Bengal, the road to Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha (assembly) goes through the gram sabhas.

A party’s panchayat poll victory prepares the bedrock for further political expansion in the state. It may be a pure coincidence that following the 2003 panchayat poll, the Left got 35 out of 42 seats in Lok Sabha polls from West Bengal. Now, the TMC, eyeing a pivotal position in the proposed federal front in 2019, has allegedly resorted to violence.

“Social theorist Partha Chatterjee once said Bengal is a ‘party society’. I would add by saying that ruling parties love to control the rural social life and economic activities so that in return, they get a large vote base,” said economist Prasenjit Bose.

Governing a panchayat in West Bengal also means controlling a large pool of money. Around ₹8,663 crore was given to the state under the National Rural Livelihood mission alone in the last financial year.

The state government has earmarked ₹19,000 crore for panchayat and rural development in 2018-19 in the budget.

“There is no doubt a lot of development work has happened in the state but then, the obvious question is why the ruling party resorted to violence ahead of the panchayat poll? My analysis is that they want complete control. The local TMC leaders also want to showcase their political capability to the high command. It is also about controlling the large sum of money,” said Abhirup Sarkar, an economist with the Indian Statistical Institute.

TMC’s national spokesperson Derek O’Brien squarely blamed the Opposition for violence. “CPI(M) and BJP are now so desperate that they are even ganging up with Maoists to kill/shoot/stab three Trinamool workers in different incidents in #Bengal today. Deliberately trying to foment trouble. Is this democracy?,” he tweeted.

He also tried to provide a historical context to the violence. “To all ‘newborn’ experts on Bengal #PanchayatElections in State have a history. 400 killed in poll violence in 1990s in CPIM rule. 2003: 40 dead.Every death is a tragedy. Now closer to normal than earlier times.Yes, few dozen incidents. Say,40 out of 58000 booths. What’s %age?” he said in another tweet.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury rubbished these charges and said, “If this had really happened in Bengal during our rule, Trinamool would not have come to power.”

First Published: May 14, 2018 23:18 IST

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