It is a tragedy of our times that after the violence in society that characterised leftist rule in West Bengal, the current day government of Trinamool Congress has followed that legacy to a ‘t’ while being greatly antagonistic towards the Left.
The Mamata Banerjee government has indeed worn the mask of pacifism and fair play, but in effect, it has hounded opponents almost as ferociously as the Leftists did in their heydays.
It is the leftists who are now at the receiving end and the new element is the BJP which is seeking to make a mark electorally but has some way to go.
The panchayat polls held on Monday have been the latest trigger for large-scale violence and intimidation.
The polls are being held after days of court hearings and opposition allegations of "Trinamool terror" - accusations that have been denied by the ruling party but not quite convincingly. Instances of violence, including a bomb attack, were reported from at least eight districts on the day of polling, May 14, across the state with at least four casualties and many instances of intimidation.
In some places, voters said they were not being allowed to enter polling booths. Before elections, Trinamool candidates were elected unopposed in 34 per cent seats - a situation over which the Supreme Court expressed concern. That a lot of those who would have contested the poll did not do so for fear of being attacked by goons of the Trinamool Congress is a hard reality which the Left parties and the BJP have articulated.
The Left and the BJP had moved court against the ‘excesses’ of the state government. While making it clear that elections to local bodies was a state subject, the ape court had stayed the Kolkata High Court order that accepted nominations via e-mail and had told the State Election Commission not to declare the results for the seats where the TMC was unopposed.
Trinamool spokespersons say in their support that there have been fewer murders in the run-up to the panchayat polls this year than in 2013 but this is hardly any defence considering that the opposition had retreated from the public space. That the Left and the BJP have come together at some places to combat Trinamool goons jointly shows the extent of their fear and helpless state.
Unless the Trinamool tendency to intimidate voters is curbed at this stage, there would be hell to pay in the Lok Sabha elections next year. This is indeed a challenge to the Election Commission to take punitive steps to ensure that the general elections go off smoothly and peacefully. Not just the Trinamool cadres but those of the CPI-M and the BJP too are charged up and ready for a confrontation.
The people of West Bengal must also seek to defuse the situation through innovative measures to usher in durable peace and tranquillity.
If, as the CPI-M claims, 800 of its candidates were prevented from filing their nomination in the panchayat polls, it is a serious matter which cannot be allowed to perpetuate. It is worth recognising that the BJP cadres can be aggressive and the Left cadres have had experience of practising strong-arm tactics when their government was in the saddle in the state for nearly four decades before the Congress and later the Trinamool Congress took hold of the reins.
It is undeniable that many in the TMC had suffered at the hands of Left cadres and are looking for revenge now, but this is no way to even things out. A stop has to be put to the cycle of violence and if that means taking strong measures to deter violence so be it. But partisan politics by the TMC would only worsen matters.