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Bengal Violence Hurting Mamata’s Plans


THE Calcutta High Court’s decision to suspend the panchayat poll process in West Bengal is a major blow to its Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. It shows that her government has failed to ensure even a routine administrative procedure like the peaceful conduct of an election campaign.

It is a blot on a government that is not only in power with a comfortable majority, but also claims to be highly popular. The judicial verdict indicates that the government has been either unable or unwilling to act against the Trinamool Congress cadres who have been accused by the Opposition parties of preventing them from filing nominations.

Govt in poor light

To make matters worse, the state election commission has apparently been coerced by the government to withdraw an earlier decision to extend the time for filing nominations.

From both the aspects – the rampaging cadres and the arm-twisting of a constitutional body – the government has emerged in poor light.

By allowing the situation to deteriorate to such a level, Mamata has done a disservice to her professed mission of leading the charge against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre. Instead, the well-known street-fighting capabilities of TMC have come to the fore, yet again.

Given the general perception of the Chief Minister’s hold over the state, it can seem odd that the ruling party should have been so intent on browbeating its opponents. The party performed satisfactorily in the 2013 panchayat elections, winning 13 of the 17 zilla parishads and faring equally well in the gram panchayats although there were also complaints about intimidation and rigging against the TMC in that year, with 24 people dying in poll-related

There is little doubt that the TMC will win a majority of the seats this time around as well. But it fears the potential gains of its latest adversary – the Bharatiya Janata Party.

BJP gaining foothold

It is well-known that the BJP has been steadily improving its position in West Bengal at the expense of the Left and the Congress. In the recent by-elections to the Uluberia Lok Sabha and Noapara assembly seats, the BJP finished second to the TMC, pushing the Communists to the third position. The Congress was nowhere in the picture.

The general belief is that the BJP has been cashing in on Mamata’s pro-Muslim image and has also been unabashedly displaying its aggressive Hindutva policies as during the recent Ram Navami celebrations when the saffron activists took to the streets carrying arms.

Although it is widely conceded that the BJP has a long way to go before it can even pose a serious challenge, the TMC is worried that a noticeable improvement in the BJP’s position in the panchayat elections will enable it to build a base. And will prove handy to the BJP in 2019 general elections as it hopes to make substantial additions to its tally of just two Lok Sabha seats (out of 42) in the state, which it had won in 2014.

For Mamata, even a marginal setback is unacceptable because she belongs to a generation of Bengali politicians to whom the BJP is an outlier, although its founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee – when the party was known as Jan Sangh – was a Bengali.

However, her party cadres’ unsavoury tactics against the BJP is damaging to her reputation because a leader who is cobbling together an alternative to the ruling dispensation at the Centre cannot afford to appear unsure on her home turf and resort to ‘heavy-handy’

Lawless BJP workers

Such ploys make her stand out as a provincial immersed in local politics with its “tradition” of violence with which the Communists were associated when they were in power in Bengal. The TMC appears to be continuing in that mode, presumably because it has co-opted many members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

The BJP’s opponents should note that one reason for the saffron outfit’s poor performances in northern and western India is the lawlessness of some of its followers like the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) or those who target courting couples belonging to different religions or threats to bury alive filmmakers and actresses whose artistic works are not to their liking.

As Hamid Ansari said in his last interview as the vice-president of India, Muslims are among those who have been feeling insecure in the last few years because of the turbulent conditions. The atmosphere of communal animosity wrought by the Hindutva storm-troopers is responsible for that.

Any party that wants to project itself as the core around which Opposition to the government at the Centre is expected to coalesce, as Mamata aims to do, cannot go down the same path of intimidation and anarchy. IANS

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