A FEW days ago a special observer, appointed by the Election Commission of India to assess the law and order situation in poll-bound West Bengal, had come up with his observation that the State resembled Bihar of 15 years ago. And he appeared to be prophetic in his observation as unbridled violence was unleashed in the State with the ruling party and the Opposition indulging in lawlessness. However, thanks to the heavy presence of the Central security forces, violence was brought under control in quick time, allowing the electoral process to go on. But with muscle power making its ominous presence felt all the while, the electoral process got somewhat blemished.
In the past Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in particular, had earned the dubious distinction of being most lawless of states in the country and elections in those states would invariably be marked by wanton use of muscle power, with blood-letting, booth-capturing, abductions, proxy voting, impersonation, manipulation of voter lists and all sorts of corrupt practices under the sun.
But remarkably these states are no longer looked upon as problem states when it comes to conducting elections. While it would be hazardous to say that these malpractices have ended once for all, however, to the credit of the Election Commission the situation in these states has remarkably improved. However, the same cannot be said of West Bengal. When the leftist parties were at the helm of affairs in the State for over three decades, it was alleged that the Opposition was muzzled under state power and muscle power. Political murders, abductions and all sorts of violence was the order of the day with elections being far from free and fair. With the change of regime and with Mamta Banerjee’s Trimool Congress (TMC) dethroning the Leftist Government, it was hoped that rule of law would be reestablished in the State.
However, this hope has been belied. The Nandigram violence bears testimony to this which ultimately led to the Tatas winding up their dream Nano car project, depriving the people of the State a promising job opportunity. The State has suffered immensely due to political violence with the industrial scenario looking bleak. Violence and lawlessness assume grimmer proportions at election time as was witnessed during the fourth phase of Lok Sabha election on Monday when quite a few incidents of intimidation of voters by political goons, clashes with security personnel and between political rivals became the order of the day. The atmosphere becomes all the more vicious when the local police remain silent spectators and allow toughies to rule the roost, intimidating political rivals and their workers. It was for this reason that Central security forces were required to be deployed in the State on a large scale to ensure that the electoral process goes on in a free and fair atmosphere.
The Central Government was right in deploying Central forces despite protests and opposition from the West Bengal Chief Minister in anticipation of disturbances to vitiate polling process. Videoes on news channels clearly showed that workers of some political parties were being supplied sticks with instigation to cause violence during voting. However, the alert security personnel thwarted such sinister designs to disrupt the voting. Such acrimonious atmosphere does great harm to the democratic polity of the nation. Political differences are very much ingrained in democratic polity. But these are supposed to be based on healthy ground and mutual respect. But to use force to intimidate and brow-beat political opponents to establish power is distortion of democratic principle of freedom of expression and right to choose. Political community in West Bengal would be held guilty of killing the democratic spirit.