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Countering Intimidation


Former US President Donald Trump was largely considered responsible for instigating the Capital Hill riot that left four people dead. He was sought to be impeached but acquitted by the Senate, mainly on the basis of a partisan vote. However, lawsuits may yet be filed against him. In similar manner, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee laid the foundation for the incident in Sitalkuchi, Cooch Behar, by exhorting TMC supporters to ‘gherao’ CRPF troopers responsible for providing protection to election officials and centres. Is she so naïve as to believe that such actions would not escalate in an already highly charged atmosphere? Should she not be held to account?

The Election Commission has sought to cool down matters by enforcing a 72 hour embargo on politicians’ visits to the site of the incident, but further action is required other than just fire-fighting. Should Mamata win the election, will it not encourage even worse behaviour in the future, simply because it is seen to work? Among those who constantly lament the decline in democratic norms in the country, she has thought nothing of casting aspersions on the EC’s impartiality and attempted to pressurise it in various ways. How can India’s most valuable asset – the ability to hold elections every five years in a fair and just manner, truly reflecting the people’s mandate – be undermined in this manner? There has to be a clearly laid down distinction between legitimate electoral campaigning and downright intimidation and skullduggery. This must be strictly enforced by the constitutional agencies.

It would seem that being anti-Modi is seen as providing carte-blanche to do just about anything. Indians have been largely unaware of the levels to which politics has descended in West Bengal and are only now getting a glimpse of the stranglehold ruling dispensations of the Left and, now, the TMC have had on the entire system. It is becoming clear why it was felt necessary to hold state elections in eight phases. Going by the manner in which matters have progressed, even this close monitoring is being challenged. Mamata Banerjee is resolved to continue with these methods because she knows there will be no second coming should she lose. As such, the remaining phases may prove even bloodier. The Election Commission should not flinch in the face of this challenge and must ensure the people get the chance to exercise their franchise without fear or favour.