Shadow of past violence looms over WB’s 2023 panchayat poll

The date for the three-tier panchayat polls in West Bengal is yet to be announced. Even by conservative estimates there is no possibility of the polls being conducted before April next year.

With around four months left for the probable date of polls, the people in the rural pockets of West Bengal can already feel the heat of that Mahayudh. Explosions, shootouts and recoveries of arms, crude bombs and explosives, along with the toll of human lives have become regular features for the last couple of weeks.

Now the apprehension is that if such is the scenario right now, how blood-spattered will the polling day be and whether West Bengal will continue with its legacy of violent elections.

Two latest examples are enough to prove how dangerous the polls can be with both the incidents taking place within a few days. First, in the wee hours of December 2, a powerful explosion at the residence of a local Trinamool Congress leader at Kanthi in East Midnapore district, which is close to the ancestral residence of the Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, not only blew up the house but also killed three persons.

Before the people could get over the shock, two persons were killed in a late night shootout at Baruipur in South 24 Parganas district on December 6. Also, during the last fortnight not a single day has passed without reports of explosions or recovery of unlicensed arms, crude bombs or explosives from different rural areas.

As usual, political slugfests have started over the violence. On the one hand, Suvendu Adhikari has written a letter to Union home minister Amit Shah seeking his intervention to control the situation. On the other hand, the Trinamool Congress’s state general secretary and the party spokesman in West Bengal Kunal Ghosh has accused the BJP of masterminding such explosions and shootouts first and then raising a hue and cry to facilitate central agencies like the National Investigation Agency to intervene. For CPI(M) leader and the party’s central committee member, Sujan Chakraborty both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP are trying to disturb the peace before the rural civic body polls to create terror in the state.

According to political observer Arundhanti Mukherjee, be it in the earlier Left Front regime or the current Trinamool Congress government the panchayat polls have always been marred by violence. “However, there has been a change in the pattern of violence. Although in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls, the Left Front used to contest as a whole front, in the panchayat polls different constituents of the Left Front like the CPI(M), CPI, All India Forward Bloc and RSP used to contest independently according to their organizational strength. So, during the Left Front regime, the violence during the panchayat polls was more in a scattered manner not restricted to just the ruling and opposition parties.”

“However, in the changed regime the focus of the violence is more specific where the ruling party’s focus is ‘zero opposition’ in every tier of the three-tier panchayat system. And to achieve that, what is necessary for the ruling party is to ensure maximum uncontested seats in each tier, so that almost 60 per cent of the battle is won before the polling date. That is exactly why the preparatory process starts so early and even more so before the date of the polls is announced,” she added.

Another political analyst Nirmalya Banerjee apprehends that this time there might be some unprecedented violence in certain northern pockets of the state but for a different reason. “The demand for a separate Kamtapur state was always there and there had been sporadic movements or violence on the issue from time to time. But this time, there has been a sudden impetus to the movement both at the political level as well as frequent threats from banned outfit Kamtapur Liberation Organisation. Both the frontal political outfits as well as the underground organisation are claiming that the BJP is supporting the demand for a separate Kamtapur state. And interestingly there has been no forceful denial from the state BJP on this count. So, my apprehension that these issues may trigger some violence before and after the panchayat polls in certain important pockets of north Bengal,” Banerjee said.

Retired West Bengal senior police officer Nazrul Islam feels that eruption of violence even before the dates for the panchayat elections have been announced is an example of sheer negligence in performing routine duties and intelligence failure on the part of the police department. “The ruling party is blaming the opposition while the opposition is blaming the ruling party. Assuming that both are right in their allegations and both are responsible for bringing in explosives, my question is what is stopping the top brass of the police in acting as per police manuals and take corrective measures,” Islam said.




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