West Bengal, known for its vibrant culture and rich political history, has experienced a surge in political violence over the years. In recent times, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), led by Mamata Banerjee, has been at the center of controversy regarding its alleged involvement in perpetuating violence for political gains. This article aims to delve into the issue of political violence in West Bengal, focusing on the AITC’s role and its implications for democracy and governance in the region.
West Bengal has a long-standing tradition of political activism, with various parties competing for power. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) had a stronghold in the state for over three decades, until the rise of the AITC in 2011. The political landscape changed dramatically, but it was accompanied by a surge in violent incidents involving AITC workers. AITC carried on the legacy of erstwhile CPI(M) political violence for establishment of totalitarian regime. The institutionalization of violence in Bengal politics was a singular contribution of the Communists and of how, now that tradition and political habit continues with the TMC. Democratic opposition was never tolerated by the Communists in Bengal and violence became the prime instrument resorted to by the comrades to dissolve in the Bengali political space. The CPI(M) established a good venture of intellectuals and goons to appease elite well educated Bengali class and use violence to control the illiterate poor farmers, fishermen, small traders, etc. The CPI(M) used murder as a political tool in an organized manner:
Sainbari Killings (March 1970): Way back in 1970 CPI-M cadres murdered two important Congress leaders belonging to the Sain family of Burdwan. The level of bestiality that they stooped down to was evident by the fact that they made the mother of the two Sain brothers eat rice drenched with the blood of her dead sons. The shock made the mother lose her mental balance and state from which she never recovered till her death a decade later. Those communist cadres who perpetrated this violence went on to become ministers and MPs under the Left-Front government and were never brought to book.
Marichjhapi Massacre (January 1979): On Saraswati Puja Day, the Jyoti Basu-led Left front Government fired, starved, shot and killed Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, who had trooped into the state and had taken shelter in the Sunderban area. These refugees, largely Dalits who had escaped persecution in Bangladesh and sought shelter in India, were about 60,000 in number and “were taken in by the Left Front’s poll promises and had come over from the rehabilitation centre provided by the Centre in Dandakaranya (Odisha)” to Marichjhanpi in Suderban. Tear gas, blockade, firing, burning of camps were the methods used by CPI-M cadres and state police under Left front to disperse the refugees.Many, while trying to escape, fell in the sea to be eaten by crocodiles; many bodies were dumped in the sea as well. Children – 8 years old, 12 years old, women and their babies, men and women in their seventies and eighties were killed in the firing. Till date, the exact number of deaths has not been known.”
Ananda Margi Monks Burnt Alive (April 1982): Ananda Margis from all over the country were headed to an “educational conference” at the Tiljala centre in the southern suburbs of Kolkata when CPI-M cadres led by city leaders struck and burnt them alive. 17 Margis were killed and several were injured.
Nanoor Massacre (July 2000): CPI-M cadres and local leaders killed 11 landless Muslim labourers just because they were supporters of the opposition party and were resisting encroachment and land grabbing on July 27, 2000. The CPIM’s bike-riding “Harmad Bahini”, spread terror in the region, as it did over the years in areas where the Communist might was politically challenged.
Nandigram Massacre (March 14, 2007): The CPI-M-led government of the “poor and the peasants” tried to forcibly acquire 10,000 acres of agricultural land for a foreign company in Nandigram, in Purba Medinipur district. The farmers having formed a Bhumi Raksha Committee resisted the snatching of their lands. They were first attacked by CPI-M’s Harmad Bahini, who threatened and set fire to the villagers’ huts and prepared the ground that led to firing which saw over 14 farmers die and over 70 getting injured. The real figures will never be known, people saw piles of farmers’ bodies dumped.
Patterns of Political Violence
AITC’s political violence has taken various forms, including physical assaults, intimidation, arson, and destruction of property. These incidents are often directed towards opposition parties and their supporters, creating an atmosphere of fear and suppressing political dissent. The violence has been particularly rampant during elections, where opposition parties allege widespread voter intimidation and booth capturing.
The Role of AITC Leadership
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the leader of AITC, plays a crucial role in shaping the party’s policies and actions. While she has gained popularity for her grassroots politics and welfare programs, her critics argue that she has turned a blind eye to the violence perpetrated by her party workers. The alleged involvement of senior AITC leaders in orchestrating and promoting violence has raised serious questions about the party’s commitment to democratic principles.
The AITC institutionalized the use of pre-poll, during poll and post-poll violence to check the growth of any significant opposition party in West Bengal. Beginning with mass murders of CPI(M) cadres and establishing hegemony in the erstwhile CPI(M) dominated districts by the use of planned murders and dangerous attacks on their leaders.
Former ADG and whistleblower IPS officer Nazrul Islam feels that the “politicization of police force” is the key reason for the “prevailing lawlessness”. “This politicization began during the Left rule, and the circle got completed in the TMC rule. If the police administration is allowed to work freely, violence can be checked within a month,” he asserted.
A home ministry report stated that West Bengal witnessed 693 incidents and 11 deaths during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Even after the polls a total of 852 incidents took place, in which 61 people died. A total number of 663 incidents took place in 2020 in which 57 people died. The NCRB data released in 2019 recorded West Bengal as the state having most number of political murders.
While the last left fort of Left, Kerela has been the state with most number of political murders in last 3 decades, West Bengal is giving a tough fight as more than 200 people have been killed within a span of just 4-5 years.
While, there is a speculation that at least 500 BJP workers have been killed after 2018, there is a lack of proper evidence as the state is under totalitarian regime with a state supporting police force with no accountability.
The bloody history of elections in Bengal !!
Panchayat elections 2023: 45+ people killed
Assembly elections 2021: 57 people killed
Panchayat elections 2018: 23 people killed
Panchayat elections 2013: 15 people killed
Panchayat elections 2023:
In a brutal fight to maintain its hegemony, AITC workers not only brutally assaulted and killed the BJP workers, but their supporters too were brutally beaten at the polling centers. At many polling stations the AITC workers didn’t let the voters to cast their vote and illegally casted all the votes in the name of AITC candidates. More than 8000 candidates of AITC won uncontested as the opposition candidates were not allowed to file their nominations. The AITC workers rigged the votes by hijacking postal ballots. Many ballot boxes were recovered from the drains. The AITC workers threw out the opposition candidates from the counting centers at many locations. There was a large deployment of central forces to West Bengal for the panchayat elections, but they were not deployed at the polling stations by the state government. The state police were used as a political force to rigg the elections.
Weaponization of Institutions
Another concerning aspect is the alleged politicization and weaponization of state institutions by the ruling party. Reports suggest that the police force, bureaucracy, and local administration have been influenced or coerced into favoring the AITC. This not only undermines the impartiality of these institutions but also creates an environment conducive to the perpetuation of violence.
Impact on Democracy
Political violence poses a grave threat to democracy, eroding the foundations of free and fair elections and stifling opposition voices. The fear generated by such violence often leads to self-censorship and discourages political participation, thus undermining the democratic process. In West Bengal, the high levels of violence have created a polarized political landscape, hindering healthy debate and constructive governance.
Legal and Judicial Response
The handling of political violence cases by the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary has also faced criticism. Accusations of biased investigations, selective targeting of opposition party members, and delayed justice have raised concerns about the integrity and independence of the legal system in West Bengal.
International Perspective and Implications
The incidents of political violence in West Bengal have attracted international attention and criticism. These incidents tarnish the state’s image and raise questions about India’s commitment to democratic values. The impact of such violence goes beyond the state’s borders, influencing perceptions of political stability and the rule of law at the national level.
Calls for Reform
Many political leaders, civil society organizations, and human rights activists have called for immediate action to curb political violence in West Bengal. They stress the need for independent investigations, impartial law enforcement, and the creation of an atmosphere that encourages healthy political competition and participation.
The surge in political violence in West Bengal, particularly associated with the AITC, raises serious concerns about the health of democracy and governance in the region. The alleged involvement of the ruling party, the weaponization of state institutions, and the impact on opposition voices create a hostile environment for political discourse. It is essential for the government, civil society, and citizens to work together to address this issue and ensure a peaceful and democratic West Bengal for future generations. Only through a collective effort can the state regain its reputation as a beacon of democratic values.
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