There was a time when in India, poll violence was not uncommon, particularly in states like Bihar, UP and West Bengal! While the situation in most states has changed for the better, West Bengal continues to remain an exception. Saturday’s incidents of violence and killings when the Panchayat polling was taking place is a stark reminder of the fact that politically sponsored violence has become a rule rather than exception in West Bengal. The West Bengal Governor has rightly commented that elections should be fought through ballots not through bullets.
It may be recalled that Kolkata High Court and after that even the Supreme Court had directed adequate deployment of CRPF to ensure violence free polls, but despite the court orders the TMC Government and the State Election Commission did not bother to pay heed, and the consequence was widespread violence and killings. Failing to maintain law and order casts a strong doubt over a fair and free election process.
It is undeniable that the spectre of violence has cast a dark shadow over once untarnished image of Mamata Banerjee. The unsettling incidents have not only sullied her reputation further, but have also ignited a fervent debate in respect of her capacity to effectively uphold law and order within the state. In West Bengal, the unbridled wave of violence has become an alarming harbinger of distress, resonating with both the electorate and potential investors. One would recall the poll violence and the post poll violence that killed many in the state after the assembly polls.
The latest chain of violent incidents creates a strong possibility of the history repeating itself in the upcoming 2024 elections. Despite a poorer than expected performance in last assembly polls, BJP has become a formidable political force in the state, which has created a deep sense of insecurity in the mind of Mamata Banerjee and her party. In addition, the fact that her party has lately been subjected to a persistent scrutiny from the central agencies which have put many influential leaders of her party behind the bars on charges of corruption, recovery of huge amounts of cash from the possession of TMC leaders and increasing judicial scrutiny and pressure on the West Bengal Government on issues of corruption and violence have rattled Mamata but have not been able to force her to curb violence. As investigations unfold, the party’s leadership faces an uphill battle to restore public faith in the wake of the school recruitment scam, the coal scam, cow smuggling, and a myriad of other corruption issues.
Apart from instilling deep fear among the electorate as well as the candidates from parties other than TMC, this unchecked mayhem has cast a dark shadow over the state’s progress and stability, impeding its path towards development too. The ramifications for Mamata Banerjee’s political future could be severe if she doesn’t address the underlying causes of this violence.