People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXVII

No. 37

September 15, 2013

 

 

Unprecedented Terror in the

Panchayat Elections in Burdwan

Amal Haldar

 

THE scope of analysing the recent Panchayat election results of Burdwan district in West Bengal is, in many ways, somewhat limited. It is very difficult to determine peoples true preferences amidst planned disruption of the electoral process by Trinamool Congress (TMC). It is rational to compare the present Panchayat election results with that of the last 2011 assembly elections, where, even amidst the so-called paribortan wave, the Left front still won 9 out of 25 seats in this district and secured 44.8 per cent votes.

 

INCIDENCE OF

TERROR ATTACKS

From before the 2011 assembly elections, and especially after it, the TMC has systematically brutalised everything Left and democratic in the state. The attacks have been especially heinous in Burdwan. Senior CPI(M) leader and district committee member, Falguni Mukherji, was murdered in open daylight in Mangalkot before the assembly elections. Subsequently, after the TMC formed the state government, three other leading district committee members of the CPI(M): Pradip Ta, Kamal Gayen and Dilip Sarkar have also been brutally murdered by the TMC goons. Many other Left leaders and  activists like Nirgun Dubey, Arpan Mukherji, Bhimraj Tewari, Madan Soren and Sheikh Hasmat have also been murdered during this period, while the number of  severely injured Left members and activists has touched three hundred.

 

Each day finds a rising number of false police cases. About a thousand Left cadre are either behind bars or had to relinquish their homes and go underground. In one zonal committee area, the zonal secretary and 17 local committee secretaries are either in jail or had to flee to escape arrest under false charges. Those attacked include ex-MLAs. Two women ex-MLAs, Maharani Konar and Sandhya Bhattacharya, went to a local thana to lodge complaints about attacks on them:  instead, these two ladies were slapped with charges of snatching necklaces! 24 local committee offices, 8 trade union offices, and 4 other offices of Kisan Sabha, students wing and youth wing have been ransacked, sometimes torched beyond redemption. The SFI-DYFI district office in Burdwan town remains closed till date.

 

The brutality of the attacks is especially gruesome in the villages. Farmers are not allowed to farm in their own lands. Land lessees and bargadars (share croppers), beneficiaries of the Left Front regime, are being systematically evicted from their legally valid land and farming rights. Heavy monetary penalty is being forced upon farmers and villagers with Left leaning. The fish in their ponds are being looted. Their homes and small shops are being vandalised, even old trees within ones premises are being felled. Recently in village Rampur, Block Galsi, not only were many homes vandalised and looted, but even the cattle were not given a drop of water for days.

 

The district Left Front committee has submitted several memorandums noting specific incidents to the district administration but nothing has happened. Any number of representations have been made to the district Superintendent of Police for return and rehabilitation of the displaced, to no avail. Instead of investigations and corrective measures, the attacks have actually intensified. Complaints of attacks on womenfolk triggered more attacks on the poorest localities at night, intimidating and actually assaulting women. These well planned attacks in villages were not stray, isolated incidents. These have taken place in 50 to 60 villages in each assembly constituency of the district. Most such villages were previous strongholds of the Left, where the poor used to be well organised. Propaganda and dissemination of the news of these dastardly attacks were systematically prevented under threat. In the last about two and half years of TMC government, barring one exception, no permission was granted by concerned authorities to even the leader of the opposition to hold mass meetings in most severely affected areas like Raina or Khondoghosh.

 

PASSAGE TO THE

PANCHAYAT POLLS

The total number of seats for the village panchayats in Burdwan is 4067. Terrorised Left candidates were not allowed to file their nominations in 310 seats. After filing of nominations, the infamous 'bike gangs' of TMC let loose a blitzkrieg of specifically targeted attacks on would be candidates, forcing 734 Left candidates to withdraw their nominations. Finally, the Left candidates actually were allowed to contest 3023 (74 per cent) village Panchayat seats and 578 (84 per cent) Panchayat Samity seats only. Submitting and holding the nominations was a major struggle. The State Election Commission had identified 31 blocks of the district as disturbed (read terror infested) and allowed submission of nominations to the BDO, but only 9 BDOs accepted nominations.

 

On the day of submitting nomination, the zonal secretary of the CPI(M)s Durgapur-1 zone, Sushanta Banerjee, was attacked and seriously injured; one of his ears have been permanently mutilated. On the same day, the local committee office of the Durgapur-Faridpur area has been ransacked and looted. In the Pandabeswar region, 5000 people challenged the terror attacks and marched with the Left candidates to submit the nominations in the Block Office. In the Memary-1 region, the nominations were submitted in the presence of thousands of people, but even then several Left workers, including ex-MLAs Tapas Chatterji and Sanat Banerjee, were attacked. In Borsul, candidates of all political parties, including the Congress, were attacked when they went to submit their nominations. Taking cue from this incident, a few thousand Party workers marched towards the Block Office along with aspirant candidates to submit nominations: this time they were attacked by the police and false cases were registered against local leaders like Abed Ali, local committee secretary Jahar Datta and 40 others. Large scale attacks took place in the poorer localities of Putunda, Karanda, Voita villages.

 

The attacks were kept up till the counting was over. But candidates did submit their nominations despite the terror. Scope of seeking redress against the attacks from the local police was rather limited, as, in many cases, when the injured went to file FIRs in the local police stations, the injured were arrested. As noted before, 734 aspirants from the village Panchayat contests were forced to withdraw their nominations. The number of forced withdrawals at the Panchayat Samiti level was 122. Both the TMC goons as well as the Police had a role in enforcing these withdrawals.

 

When the candidates or their proposers left the area to escape the post nomination attacks, the other members of their family were terrorised to force withdrawal of candidature. Ghastly incidents of the means used are now coming to our knowledge: especially about attacks on candidates parents and wives. Sometimes kids were held at gunpoint while the wife was asked to call  her husband and ask him to withdraw. Sometimes women were threatened with Kamduni-isation if they or their menfolk did not withdraw. Candidates shops were looted and  homes were ransacked and set on fire in the presence of the police. Not only those who finally could remain as Left candidates, but even those Left aspirants who failed to submit their nominations or had to subsequently withdraw nominations deserve to be saluted for their valour.

 

Where open meetings or canvassing was not possible, the voters had to be reached secretly; sometimes small, inconspicuous group meetings were held at night. Some candidates were repeatedly attacked during such canvassing, but that couldnt stop them from participating. Any number of complaints to the Election Commission and district administration yielded no result. Such blatant bias and abject surrender of a substantial chunk of civil and police administration to the political pressures of a ruling party is really unknown; it is indeed a novel phenomenon. The pre-planning of the terror becomes evident when one notes the intensity of the attacks on specific Left strongholds. The attack was most severe in the nine assembly constituencies where the Left won in the 2011 assembly elections.

 

FARCE OF

AN ELECTION

The election campaigning of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and other ministers and leaders of the TMC had the inbuilt forecast of a particularly severe attack on Burdwan on the voting day, as this district had dared to get 45 per cent electoral support during the 2011 assembly elections. The brutal reality on the voting day however surpassed all apprehensions. By 9 a.m., booth capturing commenced. Left polling agents were attacked and hounded out of the booths. Most election observers were not to be seen, the sector offices were silent and the presiding officers were forced to remain unconcerned. By 10 a.m., 357 booths were captured, by 1:30 p.m. 311 more, by 5 p.m. another 387, after 5 p.m. 23 more. A total of 1078 booths were thus captured. In each such captured booth, the TMC snatched 200 to 300 ballots for each of the 3 tiers     (i.e., Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad) from the presiding officers, and stamped them in favour of the TMC candidates. In some cases the TMC goons would stand by the window and see that the voter voted for TMC. In some other booths the cloth enclosing the stamping table was removed and it was announced that the voter has to vote openly. In all such booths the armed central forces were not to be seen and the local police were dumb spectators as per instructions from their superiors, playing no role except to stand and watch. A few presiding officers feebly protested, but in the absence of security could not do anything more. At 4 p.m. the Left called a press conference and announced, giving names, that 909 booths were captured. By night, the number went up further.

 

DURING

COUNTING

We had estimated that in areas where booths were captured, there may not be much of a problem during counting;  but in other areas where people chose to vote despite the terror, there were distinct possibilities of disruptions during counting. This is exactly what happened. In Monteswar block, identity cards were not issued to counting agents till late previous night. In Raina-1 block, the counting ID cards were snatched in the BDO office itself. The cards had to be remade within a few hours and reissued. Open threats were being given to Left counting agents, asking them not to enter counting stations. As before, specific reports to Election Commission and district administration could garner no security.

 

On the counting day, in the Ausgram-1 counting station at Guskara College, Left counting agents were beaten up severely in front of the police. No counting agents of Left candidates could be present during this counting. The picture in the terror stricken Ketugram-1 area was the same. In Jamalpur, all Left counting agents were attacked the moment counting started. In counting booths where the Left candidates were winning, the TMC supporters were getting excited and started attacking, sometimes led by the local TMC MLA.

 

Even women candidates of the Left were not spared. After an hour and a half of counting, the Left was leading comfortably in Raina-1, whence 19 Left counting agents and the women candidate were then mercilessly beaten up, once again in the presence of the police and five of them had to hospitalised with serious injuries. In Memary-1, the attack started within two hours of commencement of counting and one agents arm was broken; and all Left counting agents were forced to abandon the counting tables. In this case also the police were dumb spectators.

 

In Memary-2, the intensity of the attack was even more severe. A rumour was circulated that four TMC workers have been injured with arrows. Then the Left supporters, who had gathered 200 yards away from the counting booth, were attacked first by the police and then by the rampaging TMC goons. Ballot papers were snatched and destroyed. The lady BDO who tried to prevent this vandalism was physically attacked. The way this woman BDO was attacked was indeed shameless and had the Left workers not intervened and saved her it could have been a much more reprehensible incident indeed. After the BDO, the Left agents were attacked. Amongst the counting agents was a pregnant lady; she was so badly kicked in her stomach that doctors are doubting if the child can be saved. Hundreds of TMC supporters entered the counting booth and vandalised the counting process.

 

Similarly, in Burdwan Sadar-1 block, Burdwan-2, Raina-2, Monteswar and Mongolkot counting booths the Left counting agents were beaten up and thrown out after about one hour of counting. After 3 p.m. counting agents of Bhatar and  Pandabeswar booths were thrown out; by 5 p.m. further expulsions of Left counting agents took place in Kalna-1 and Purbasthali-1. In Ausgram-2 counting booth, Left counting agents could only enter after 3 hours of commencement of counting as they were held up by incessant bombing. In Ketugram-2 and Katoa-2 Panchayat Samitis, the Left were announced winners, but thereafter a recount was ordered, rigged and two seats were snatched.

 

The situation in the counting stations of 16 blocks were similar. The Election Commission was requested twice, with letters, to stop the counting process in these booths. At 3 p.m. the Left announced in a press conference that in 12 counting stations they had no agents and in each case hundreds of TMC workers had entered the booths and were attacking the Left agents. While the administration took a stern stand for the Left and their agents, not allowing anyone without a proper ID card to enter the counting stations, for TMC workers it was freedom unlimited, hundreds of them freely entering or exiting counting booths with mobiles. By about  noon, the TMC were fabricating the result sheets to their sweet will. For most Zilla Parishad seats, no counting took place at all; only TMC votes were tabulated as desired by TMC hooligans.

 

The reduction of the counting process to a farce is the consequence of the fact that the Left were doing well in the seats where voting did take place. Had the Left been faring badly in the counting, the TMC would have rejoiced and would have no reason to resort to such notorious vote looting. The government officials who conducted the counting process agree with this view. Many TMC minded officials also do not know