Bengal should not be the only one under the lens

by March 21, 2019 0 comments

Bengal should not be the only one under the lens

The Election Commission should assess the plea to declare Bengal a super-sensitive State based on merit rather than bias

Is the whole of Bengal a conflict zone or disturbed area? Is it like militancy-hit Kashmir or a Naxal-infested Chhattisgarh where democratic processes have been undermined and elections have posed a consistent challenge? Has there been a breakdown of the law and order machinery? Or is it the only State in the country where election-related violence has been reported?  Considering there are no clear answers to the above, the BJP’s plea to the Election Commission (EC), urging it to declare West Bengal a “super sensitive state” to ensure Lok Sabha polls are conducted in a free and fair manner, is not only presumptuous but facile. In other words, what the BJP essentially wants is that special Central security be provided at all polling booths and specific observers be posted there to ensure there is no wrongdoing, coercion or violence. It even wants local police off the roster, alleging they are in sympathy with the State Government. In other words, ensure a mini emergency situation under Central vigilance of some sort and hold a controlled election, which it believes will otherwise slip away from its grasp and go to the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The BJP’s angst is understandable, considering it is desperately trying to add up the numbers for a Lok Sabha victory and zeroing in on new States, particularly those belonging to the Opposition, to make good the deficit. But Bengal is the last vanguard against its politics and turf of the chief architect of the Opposition front, Mamata Banerjee. And she has steadfastly halted the party from either polarising or consolidating the votebase. Besides, while the BJP has made inroads in the Northeast and even busted the Left citadel of the other Bengali-dominated State of Tripura, it is still hard-pressed in Bengal and despite being the party with the second highest voteshare, is finding it difficult to convert it to seats. So this petition to the EC clearly reeks of political vendetta and is tantamount to abusing its Central authority to control the verdict, one that has returned Banerjee convincingly and not narrowly. The BJP has also sought the EC’s strictures in Kerala,  particularly in the politically volatile Kannur and Pathanamthitta seats, given the backdrop of the Sabarimala controversy, one that the party hopes to use as an electoral plank. And the EC has already taken a policy decision to assign special observers here. This trend is worrying, therefore.

Coercion, violence or booth management, which the Left parties in Bengal had perfected into what is called “scientific rigging,” became part of a machinery that no party in Bengal has been immune to but that in no way could affect a tidal change. One must remember that Banerjee uprooted the Left giants operating within that hostile system. Of course, critics may argue that the panchayat polls in May last year were violent but the TMC’s tally proved that it had the grassroots support and most importantly an organisational strength. Besides, would that imply that all booths are compromised in Bengal? Or the heartland states, where booth-capturing  proliferated down the years, have had a sudden change of heart? Or is it that the BJP doesn’t want to touch friendly States? In fact, going by counter-complaints, the BJP itself has allegedly got in men from Bihar and Jharkhand into Bengal for “electoral management.” Booth capturing took place way back in 1957 in Bihar’s Begusarai district, when some goons belonging to one political party blocked supporters from a rival party to cast their votes. Subsequently, politicians hired criminals to do the job for a fee or with the assurance of immunity from police action. They grew in stature and contested elections on their own that led to the dreaded criminalisation of politics. Compared to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the malaise affected Bengal much later. But the EC has steadfastly worked over the years towards overcoming challenges and retaining the integrity of the democratic process. It is important that no ground arises to doubt its credibility or its ability to provide a level-playing field.

Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer

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