People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 18

May 18, 2008



First Phase Of Bengal Panchayat Polls Peaceful

B Prasant

WHEN Biman Basu, state secretary Bengal CPI(M) and Bengal Left Front’s chairman said that the Panchayat elections during the initial phase on May 11 was generally peaceful, the media stalwarts – there was a huge jostling crowd of them at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan -- pounced, expectedly enough, on the term generally, and started to pontificate on ‘CPI (M)’s terror tactics,’ even – oh-the shame-of- it – ‘assaults on the CRPF.’

Initially taken aback slightly by the broiling hostility, Biman Basu who was in a fair jovial mood, patiently explained there were precisely seven ‘incidents,’ where the two Congresses attempted to make off with either some bunches of ballot papers, or in two cases at Burdwan (of all places!) with a ballot box. No one was injured except a police officer of the Bengal police service – at the hands of a CRPF commandant.

In all the instances of ballot-related incidents, it was the villagers who intervened: they irately chased down the miscreants, a hard slap or two was judiciously delivered, the papers and boxes returned to the right places – and persons - inside of the polling booths to polling officials. The latter had the returned goods examined for damage and / or tampering, declared everything to be ‘as good as good,’ and carried on the poll process – in peace and amity.

Subsequently, as we had occasion to enjoy seeing, the offending dada’s and didi’s men were seen sheepishly accepting perhaps as tokens of compensation for the slaps delivered a shared lunch with those very men and women – poor villagers all – whom they would never tire of blackguarding every day and every hour.

Votes were cast in the first phase on May 11 for a total of 51,064 three-tier Panchayati raj seats with 41,516 seats in the Gram Panchayat, 8,800 in the Panchayat Samity, and 748 in the Zilla Parishad. A large percentage of women voters turned up, and they braved not merely the merciless sun – not a single cloud cover was in sight in Bengal on this day – but also the long-running threats of the so-called Maoist and the Jharkhandist killers not to take part in the poll process. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee while speaking at the Press Club and later to Ganashakti did say recently that elections in Bengal – all elections – were festive occasions where the people would come out in their ‘Sunday best,’ be full of good cheer, and take part in vast numbers in the act of participating in the ever-widening process of democratisation, electing, in the process, ‘our rural government,’ in the case of the Panchayat polls. The first phase of the polls was just that – an occasion that was happy, joyous, and participatory, with the odd attempt at disruption. Nevertheless, the media remained disgruntled.


Moreover, what about the much-vaunted 'Maoist braves' themselves? What about their threats – to quote from one of their ‘leaflets’ – ‘blood will flow from the bodies of every CPI(M)’ who would ‘come out and vote.’ On them, the bourgeois parties had placed such a great deal of confidence that they will succeed in terrorising people to stay off the polling stations. The district units of the CPI(M) reported not a single sighting of these rare species – perhaps the dark of the nights, the sleepy villages, the comrades caught out alone or in their twos and threes and then too, in desolate places – are the preferences of these ruthless killers, creatures of the political netherworlds, and the nocturnal criminal fringes that they belong to.

We thought it immeasurably distressing that CPI(M) stalwarts whom we had held dear to our heart like the late comrades Ganapati Bhadra, Khshetrapal Majhi, Sridam Das, Karamchand Singh and so many others, were no longer around to see that their supreme sacrifices were never in vain – that their deaths at the hands of class enemies had served to redouble the courage and grit of the rural masses of the red clay districts to come out with the highest percentage of votes cast – nearing 70 per cent and more - in Bengal this day despite uncalled for provocations by the CRPF – they even beat up the officer-in-charge of Nandigram police station – in Midnapore east.


In Nandigram itself – from Gokulnagar to Satengabari, from this side of Talapati channel to the far side of Chuni-buri inland waterway, from along the Haldi river, to the once killing fields near the place where Comrade Shankar Samanta was hacked up and then put to the blaze of death, voting was peaceful.

Extreme provocation was provided for by the CRPF commandants, a member of parliament’s patience and fortitude was sorely tested – if a balled fist waved close to the face, accompanied by boisterous shouts is not provocation we would not know what provocation is – especially when the voting was going on smoothly.

The people as usual have had the last word and Buddhadeb’s words ring true: ‘We shall look way beyond the elections – elections that will be immutably by and large peaceful– and then we must set up the three-tier rural governance of Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samities, and Zillah Parishads, complete with Gram Sansads and Gram Sabhas, and the entire system that would be more vibrant, more transparent, and more people-oriented than they are now. We shall look with hope in our hearts-and-minds to a better and brighter future for rural Bengal.’