A single phase election in West Bengal- Can it be made a reality?

As LS poll 2019 draws nearer, fight between two main parties in West Bengal is gaining momentum. Right since the EC announced 7 phase elections in the State, rival parties have been indulging in liberal use of rhetoric and abuses. But even these can be considered benign political conversations, if the Bengal’s bloody history of elections over past several years is kept in view. The last Panchayat election had witnessed unprecedented intimidation and violence claiming nearly a hundred lives.

Add to that the news that on March 9, 2019, 1000 kg potassium nitrate was seized in North Kolkata. Five days later, 6650 kg aluminium nitrate, 2650 kg gelatin sticks and 52,500 detonators were seized in Saltora, Bankura. The enormity of these seizure reflected in the headlines of the New India Express of March 16 which said: ‘WEST BENGAL HEADED FOR AN EXPLOSIVE ELECTION: Seizure of two massive consignments of explosives is giving cops the jitters.’

On the eve of the crucial LS polls, where the stake of political parties is extremely high for a variety of reasons, visible or not, the people of the state are anxious for legitimate reasons. In this election which would potentially chalk the future path of politics of India, they are legitimately anxious to be able to participate in a fair and full measure. To do that they need the assurance of full proof security while casting their votes for, whichever candidate and party they choose.

In this context, the BJP leaders approaching the EC with a request to treat all booths in the State as ‘highly sensitive’ has raised varieties of reactions in public and political circles. Though BJP is still viewed as a kind of common enemy by all parties in the State, the other major opposition parties such as Congress and CPM, also agree with the validity of this demand. On the other hand, the ruling TMC has harshly criticised the move and described it as an act of nervousness on the part of BJP. The party, seemingly as a shrewd strategy, also projected it as the  ‘latest act of insult by the central government to the people of Bengal’. This seemed somewhat premature and hyper-reaction considering that the EC itself did not give any kind of reaction, much less a decision.

However, a ball has been set rolling and it is likely to gather velocity as days pass. Interestingly, no local media went to study the public opinion on such an important issue and present an objective picture of how people themselves looked at the issue. It certainly could have been a valuable service on their part for the welfare of the society as a whole. Be that as it may, everyone who has a stake in the state, whether they be people or political parties, would do well to examine the proposition in a dispassionate manner and try to optimise the outcome from the conflict which is still nebulous. False vanity or greed on the part of the political parties may act to the detriment of the society and the State including their own long-term interests. The following analysis is aimed at helping them looking objectively not only into the issue but also facing the greater challenge of improving the law and order situation in the state in general.

There are basic contradictions in the ruling party i.e., TMC’s stand. It is opposing the BJP’s demand citing following reasons: (a) West Bengal is peaceful and it has satisfactory law and order situation; (b) though there were violence in last Panchayat elections, its own members formed the majority amongst those murdered. If the party makes an introspection it would realize unreasonableness of its own stand. The very fact that nearly 100 people died in the elections at the grass root level of democracy conclusively proves that the law and order situation is far from satisfactory.

As a matter of fact, the party ought to feel more concerned about the issue if it genuinely values the security and lives of its members. Analytically speaking, the lack of safety of political workers and especially of the ruling party points to the presence of strong anti-social forces which is in a position to defy the authority of the state government. In other words, contrary to what it may boast of or brag about, in the heart of its heart the state government knows that has not been able to measure up to the challenges of these forces with its police and other law enforcing forces.

But if the ruling TMC is still adamant and does not require any special help from the EC, which may be available for the asking, it is clearly in a state of dangerous denial. Actual law and order situation is a matter of fact. It is what it is. Who knows it better than the discerning and regular viewers of Bengali TV channels? Daily news bulletins of West Bengal based TV channel depict agonising law and order situation.

Hardly a day passes when some or more or all of these news items do not make headlines e.g., (a) intra party clashes (often involving the ruling party) involving liberal use of fire arms leading to death and or serious injury to political workers; (b) inter-party clashes leading to death or injury; (c) detection of bomb manufacturing activities in villages; (d) seizure of counterfeit notes; (e) explosion of bombs in village homes with the causes often remain unexplained; (e) dead bodies with injuries found lying by the side of railway tracks; (f) recovery of illegal fire arms; (g) arrest of persons holding unauthorised fire arms; (f) fight between cadres of political parties using fire arms and bombs; (g) killing of relatives for the sake of property; (h) son or daughter severely persecuting their elderly parents; (i) mob attack on hospitals and doctors vandalising properties and causing bodily injuries; (j) discovery of illicit liquors; (k) houses of political leaders and workers vandalised, and so on.

The scale, frequency and the spread of such incidents clearly suggest that the police has been hard put to meet the challenges of the anti-social elements. Obviously, the assured availability of fire arms and bombs, the manufacturing of which seem to have spread like cancer across the state may be giving the goons the temerity to carry on with their activities in spreading a mayhem with impunity. It is common sense that one bomb making unit in one village can keep the people of a cluster of villages mortally afraid and influence the pattern of interactions between the anti-social elements and the law enforcement agencies. It may not be out of place to say that the conventional police force, weak in terms of numbers, equipment and logistics, tend to become helpless to the might of the goons with assured access to unending supply to illegal fire arms.

It is high time that the whole of the State should voluntarily undergo an one-time complete ‘purging’ of these fire arms and bombs. This task is however a much tougher challenge than it looks. These dark forces have long past and they are well entrenched. Nothing less than a week-long intensive military operation alone can achieve this purpose. It is a certainty that this would ensure a peaceful election at the immediate. More importantly it would exert also a dramatically positive impact on the law and order situation in the State. It is the ruling party, much more than the opposition, which would benefit from the exercise in the long run. It would make governance easier and enable the state government to further concentrate on development works.

The opposition parties too need to welcome such an exercise. It gives them more than what they have demanded now. They apprehend the pervasive violence would work to the advantage of the ruling party. An army mop up operation will completely stamp out such a possibility. However, in the longer term the deserving party or parties would reap the benefit. Viewed from this angle, the ruling TMC should consider the issue holistically and pragmatically and not respond in a knee-jerk fashion.

It is a fact that the entire country has serious concerns about the law and order situation in West Bengal. The fact that West Bengal is a border province and has witnessed bomb making activities by radical Islamist forces like JMB and others as was revealed in places like Khagragarh in Burdwan and also Birbhum district. These add to the nation’s anxiety. This election presents the TMC with an opportunity to resolve this longstanding problem of proliferation of ‘bomb making’ with its attendant consequences. It can make use of the forthcoming election and urge the EC to get the services of the army to carry out a state wide ‘search’ operation for about a week so that the entire stock pile of fire arms and bombs is cleared at one go. This will be to its long term advantage of the people. In the immediate it would blunt the attack of its political opponents and mobilise favourable public opinion in its favour. That can put in good stead in this election.

Finally, irrespective of gains to political parties individually, a holistic improvement in law and order situation would give a six stage promotion to the State. In other words, going forward it may be possible to hold a single phase election in West Bengal. Even if it appears as utopian, nothing other than an ‘out of box’ kind of solution alone can handle a complex situation like West Bengal. In fact so complex that even ruling party is living in a state of ‘denial’ and ‘helplessness’. Rising above partisan interests and false vanities all parties need to proactively consider this alternative.

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