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Is violence and rigging Mamata's poriborton?

By Dr Anirban Ganguly
May 12, 2014 16:38 IST
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Mamata Banerjee'In this election -- her first major one since wresting power from the Left -- Mamata has proved that she has simply maintained the Left's systemic status quo by ensuring that she implements the CPI-M method of election and result 'management', says Dr Anirban Ganguly.

A promise Mamata Banerjee has often made to the people of West Bengal, and more importantly, to her belligerent cadres in the last few days is that the Trinamool Congress will emerge as the third largest formation in Delhi and she will play a deciding role in designating the next occupant of the Delhi masnad.

On the last day of polling, when West Bengal saw 17 of its most crucial seats go to vote, 'Didi' seems to be trying to live up to that promise by unleashing her lumpen militia whose only mandate is to wreak havoc and mayhem by intimidating voters and workers of opposing political parties.

On a day when it appears as if the Election Commission is a non-existent Constitutional entity, at least as far as West Bengal is concerned, crude bombs, country-made pistols, machetes, spikes and irons rods have been in free use across the length of the state.

In the 2009 election, the Trinamool Congress had won 15 out of the 17 seats that went to the polls on May 12 in the state. In 2014, Mamata perhaps sees some of these slip through her grip, preventing her from the targeted Delhi goal, hence her renewed aggression.

Cosmopolitan Kolkata witnessed bomb-throwing incidents -- the former deputy mayor, herself a well-known leader of the state Bharatiya Janata Party was targeted -- reminding many of a throwback to the 1970s and the 1980s when the only and visible expressions of politics and political action in Bengal was violence and extreme terrorisation of the common man in the name of either achieving the declared goal of a Maoist oasis or a proletarian utopia which would liberate all people for all times from the imagined clutches of a 'capitalist conspiracy'.

Midnight knocks, encounter killings, murderous third degree in police lock-up and a vocal section of the urban intellectual youth taking to political violence had then become the order of the day.

This national election has starkly shown that Mamata's poriborton for West Bengal has indeed proved to be elusive. In this election -- her first major one since wresting power from the Left -- Mamata has proved that she has simply maintained the Left's systemic status quo by ensuring that she implements the CPI-M method of election and result 'management'.

So artful and masterly is her 'management' and handling of those very elements who once batted for the Left that she has forced the likes of Lakshman Seth -- a once feared leader of the CPI-M in Midnapore and one of the prime movers behind the dastardly 2007 Nandigram firing -- to severe their ties with the Marxist party. Seth has opted to support and canvass for the Trinamool.

In fact, after Monday's pattern and tendencies of polling, it is evident that West Bengal has been unable to extricate itself from the cycle and habit of violence that the Left Front regime had institutionalised in its nearly four decade rule in the state.

The majority of violent incidents that continued throughout the day on May 12 were those perpetrated by Trinamool supporters. A day before the polls the anticipation of violence was palpable when in some areas of Kolkata the state's law enforcing officers refused to follow orders to arrest Trinamool law-breakers.

The incident at Cossipore in north Kolkata, on May 11, where the officer in charge of the police station refused to carry out orders to arrest Trinamool miscreants was a portent of what was to come in the last phase. But it would be unfair to only blame Mamata for this culture; she has simply imbibed this CPI-M's modus operandi.

After all, there is nothing new that she has ever thought out for West Bengal and the only capacity that she has always displayed is to work out the politics of anti-Leftism and of violence.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s and up until 2006 the CPI-M led Left Front indulged in similar violence whenever elections were round the corner. For those of us who grew up in these decades it was common to see and hear our elders, their friends and our neighbours who were not CPI-M 'supporters' or 'card-holders' complain that they had gone to the polling booth only to find their names missing or being told 'Dada apnar bhot hoye gecche, (Dada, your vote has been cast).'

The only sane option was to put out a smile and quietly walk away, a protest would mean public intimidation, blows and silent social quarantine later, once the voting was over.

In the rural constituencies, forcefully preventing voters from coming out, to hurling crude bombs a day or two before the actual polling, to taking out marches and menacing bike processions by the 'Harmads', the CPI-M's equivalent to Hitler's 'brownshirts', to go round the villages with white shrouds and threatening ladies of the house with widowhood if they failed to ensure that their men-folk voted for the comrades' candidate, the CPI-M has inflicted of all of these and much more.

Pogroms against political opponents and compelling their families to abandon their villages and to seek shelter in neighbouring districts, especially during election time, was one of the choicest methods of the CPI-M, a method which the Trinamool has now easily adopted.

The real and visible poriborton has taken place in the dominancy of the perpetrator. Instead of the CPI-M it is the Trinamool Congress which is putting to use these methods and the comrades are the ones bearing its brunt now.

The common people, the real people of West Bengal who had yearned for change in 2011, continue to suffer in the midst of this crossfire. This is certainly not what they had bargained for.

In the last few days however, the equations seem to have slightly altered. A leader who has assured stability, of a pattern of governance that delivers, who has promised to usher in a period of industrial growth, of jobs, security and has also assured extending protection to those large number of Bengalis who have lived in the state in dismal conditions as refugees seems to have suddenly changed Didi's calculation.

Mamata Banerjee sees the Narendra Modi-led BJP starting to capture Opposition space and an increase in the BJP's vote percentage and seats, she calculates, shall put her face to face with a more formidable entity, an entity which today speaks the language of real poriborton, a language she has herself abandoned in the last three years.

This makes her jittery; this reveals her failure in rising to the aspirations of her own electorate -- an electorate that had earlier stood by her.

The stage for a real poriborton in West Bengal is perhaps just being readied and through this election it shall be certain that it is neither the Left nor Didi who can deliver the people of West Bengal from the present tangle of political violence.

Later this week, that early signal may be clear enough!

Dr Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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