The most sacred rite in a democracy is elections. Unless the State can ensure that each and every adult citizen can go from their home to the polling booth and cast vote without any fear, democracy is reduced to a charade. Having the ability to hold free elections is a non-negotiable minimum requirement to be considered a democratic State. Else democracy becomes dictatorship in disguise, the kind we so often see in the Middle East.
It is important to understand that a ‘free’ election (zero threat to voters) is an essential requirement for a ‘fair’ election – one can have a free, but unfair election; but every fair election is inherently free. While Bharat has witnessed a healthy debate in recent times on the various impediments to fair elections – corruption, fudged electoral rolls, paid news, eligibility of and disclosure by candidates, hate speech, misuse of state machinery by incumbents – we have been led to believe that ‘free’ elections are now the norm. But this is a false notion – significant parts of the country still do not witness free elections due to real physical threats from certain dominant political or non-political groups; the threats are two fold: one kind of threat physically prevents citizens from exercising their vote on polling day, while the other kind threatens them with physical retribution if the results from a constituency go otherwise (it is not at all difficult to assess how a locality voted by looking at post-election ward/polling booth data).
West Bengal is the most glaring example of an entire State which has not witnessed a free election in a long long time. Deadly political violence has taken such deep roots in the State under 26 years of Congress rule, then 38 years of CPM-Left front rule, followed by last 5 years of TMC rule. The mechanisms which have worked reasonably well in the rest of Bharat to ensure free elections, have failed miserably in West Bengal. The ongoing assembly elections are just another manifestation of this deep rooted problem. Neither an independent & autonomous EC (Election Commission), its model code of conduct, or deployment of central forces to polling booths have managed to create the peaceful & secure atmosphere that allows citizens of West Bengal to vote without fear. The brutal retribution that awaits those who dare to deny the establishment diktat for voting is another matter altogether.Ongoing violence in West Bengal Assembly Elections
Today, West Bengal is seeing the 3rd phase of voting in the 6 phase assembly elections. Reports of violence, intimidation and rigging are pouring in from all sides. As this media report says –
“Call it Bengal democracy’s Last Mile Problem. The voter — having made up her mind — would be up against a range of uncertainties on D-Day before pressing her finger on the EVM machine. Scribes in Kolkata use many words to denote the uncertainties: plain intimidation, bogus voting, or scientific rigging. Press further and they would say the CPM practised it during the 34 years they were in power. And that it took the Trinamool Congress (TMC) only a year or two to perfect it.
Figures speak for themselves Barely two phases of polling have been completed in West Bengal’s marathon six-phase affair. That’s just 49 seats, but around a dozen deaths have been reported. The Election Commission has received over 2,000 complaints: an average of 40 complaints per constituency, accusing the TMC of criminal intimidation, threatening of voters, attacking the candidates, and throwing out election agents from polling booths. So just why is Bengal this violent? No wonder then that as the state approaches the crucial third phase, the main confrontation seems to be not between the two major political forces of the TMC and the CPM-Congress combine, but between the Trinamool and the Election Commission (EC).”
Another report has this to say –
“The second round of voting that began this morning was barely underway when television channels started showing images of election agents of political parties, primarily opposition parties, bleeding profusely, men in lungis freely striding about with guns in hand, heated exchanges between voters and nonchalant policemen, angry voters venting their spleen in front of the cameras, bomb explosions being explained away as acts to chase away rogue elephants, complaints from people and opposition leaders about the absence of central forces juxtaposed against ruling party candidates feigning complete ignorance of any troublesome incident anywhere, so on and so forth.
Poll violence, pre-poll, post-poll and during the actual polling, is not unknown in West Bengal. Still, the violence we are witnessing today brings back memories of 1972, when the Congress under Siddhartha Sankar Ray, ably aided by a group of young Turks that included current Trinamool leaders like Subrata Mukherjee, practically forced the opposing Left to go underground to live to fight another day, even front-ranking leaders like Jyoti Basu.
In elections since 2011, there have been too many instances of booth capturing and false voting and legitimate voters being denied a chance to cast their ballot, but the fear tactics of the ruling party was so effective and the opposition’s morale so low that actual incidents of poll violence remained within Bengal’s lax acceptable limits.”
These two video offer a glimpse of how guns, bombs and just plain old thuggery are a common feature of elections in West Bengal –
Voters barred from poll booth.Goons run riots in Bengal Polls.Cops watch as mute spectators.EC officer meekly pleads https://t.co/bp2dENZFE7
— NewsX (@NewsX) April 21, 2016
CM issues veiled threats to voters
It is common knowledge in Bengal that Mamta Banerjee has cut a deal with the devil in order to gain power in Bengal. The way she has allowed Islamists to unleash a reign of terror in several WB districts is itself reason enough to impose President’s rule in the state. But her behavior during this election campaign shows that she has completely lost all sense of how a democracy functions.
The media reports quoted above say –
“Her oft-quoted comments at public meetings that the Central forces deployed by the EC will leave Bengal after the polls and that the people of the state will have to live with the state forces have been widely interpreted as a veiled threat to voters who want to step out of the TMC line. “
What can be more intimidating than a sitting CM issuing threats to common citizens to vote for her, or else….? Why is this not a matter of debate & concern for our 9 PM fish-market news show talking heads, or the Award Wapsi gang, or Bengalis like Sharmila Tagore who waxed eloquent during the manufactured ‘Rising Intolerance’ debate?
Mamta dismisses EC show cause notice with utter contempt
In reposnse to an EC show cause notice against her for violating the model code of conduct during election speeches,Mamta retorted “I will say it a lakh times, do whatever you want”. She added, “The EC is following orders of the CPM-Congress. They have show caused me. I will not respond. Let them send 40 such notices. I will repeat this 100 times.”
She also claimed that “People will ‘showcause’ EC on May 19”. Seeing their leader treating the EC with such naked contempt, how could her party leaders fall behind?
“Hit the EC on its face with a shoe,” says TMC leader Anwar Khan.
Even a retired Supreme Court justice Ashok Ganguly could not escape Mamta’s wrath. Ganguly, along with professor Ambikesh Mohapatra was arrested for forwarding a cartoon that lampooned Mamata, is part of a formation called the Amra Akranto (We the Attacked). The outfit shelters all political victims of the TMC and is now contesting polls along with the CPM-Congress combine. Ganguly says Mamata herself is promoting lawlessness. “She became a chief minister through a constitutional process. Having done so, how can she challenge the commission? The chief minister is promoting lawlessness. This is unbecoming of a CM,” he says.
What explains this deep rooted violence in West Bengal?
The answer is simple – a toxic cocktail of Marxist fascism where violence is justified in the name of ‘class struggle’ and Islamofascism where violence against the unbeliever is always just, has brought Bengal to its knees today. North Bharat has largely rid itself of the scourge of large scale booth capturing which afflicted it in 1970s-90s, so it is primarily West Bengal and the communist stronghold of Kerala which continue to be a blot on our democracy when it comes to holding free elections.