The Election Commission (EC) ordering an end to the campaigning in nine West Bengal constituencies at 10 pm on Thursday is the first such action it has taken in India’s electoral history.
Because something like this has never been done in independent India’s history, it was expected that the parties opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — especially the Trinamool Congress — would cry foul and claim that the move was anti-democratic.
Already, Congress, Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPM) Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have criticised the EC’s move and alleged that the poll body is biased in favour of BJP.
But whether EC’s decision is justified or not needs to be on the basis of the ground reality in West Bengal, not petty political blame games. And the grim facts of the situation in West Bengal are so serious that the desecration of the bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and the attack on BJP president Amit Shah’s convoy — which prompted EC’s action — pale in comparison to darker tragedies.
On the day of second phase of polling in West Bengal, 22-year-old BJP Yuva Morcha member Sisupal Sahis was found hanging from a tree in Purulia. BJP alleged that Sahis was murdered by “goons from TMC”. The police, however, abstained from linking Sahis’ death to the Lok Sabha polls. But a member associated with the ruling party of the country being murdered on the day of second phase of polling in a state ruled by a party bitterly opposed to the party of the deceased is anything but a sign of peaceful polls.
During the third phase on 23 April, 56-year-old Tiarul Kalam was killed during clashes between Congress and TMC in Murshidabad.
Just a day before the sixth phase of polling on 12 May, 42-year-old BJP worker Raman Singh and 55-year-old TMC workers Sudhakar Maity were found dead in Jhargram and Contai of East Midnapore respectively.
Apart from these four deaths, Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal witnessed a series of untoward incidents.
For example, in the first phase, an EVM was ransacked in Sitai, with BJP and TMC blaming each other’s workers for the incident. During the second phase, CPM candidate Mohammed Salim’s convoy was attacked in Raiganj consituency. Times Now reported that apart from bricks and stones being hurled at the convoy, even bullets were fired at the cavalcade.
On the same day, a vernacular news channel reporter was allegedly attacked by TMC members, The Wire reported. The report had also stated that regional news channels showed visuals of residents of Dighi Colony in Chopra being beaten up by unidentified people, while the state police personnal remained silent.
Crude bombs were hurled by unidentified miscreants outside some polling stations in Malda South. Reuters reported that during the fourth phase, security forces chased away people wielding sticks after workers from BJP took on those from TMC in Asansol. An EC official also said that paramilitary forces fired a blank round inside a polling station in another constituency in the state after a scuffle between voters and troops, who were demanding that mobile phones be kept aside while voting, as rules state.
During the fifth phase, three journalists were injured in a scuffle which broke out between BJP’s Barrackpore candidate Arjun Singh and TMC workers, The Times of India reported. A few CPM workers were also attacked and two other people were injured. Villagers of Bishnupur boycotted polling during the sixth phase as they claimed that central forces were harassing the men and not letting women vote.
The Hindu also reported of a video clip from Sunday which showed a group of men sitting on the ground being threatened and hit by another group of men in uniform carrying assault rifles. Thus, the ground reality in West Bengal is that there has been no Lok Sabha election phase during which no major incidents of violence took place, with some of those incidents even leading to deaths.
And it’s not like the EC had not taken any action to curb violence in West Bengal. From the fifth phase, EC decided to bring all the polling booths in West Bengal under the central forces. In the fourth phase, 98 percent of the polling booths for constituencies going for polls in the state were under central forces.
Some may argue that EC did not take such action despite poll violence always being a reality in West Bengal, which had also seen several killed in last year’s panchayat polls in the state. Poll violence in West Bengal was also a reality during the Left regime in the state.
But the poll body not curtailing campaigning earlier doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t do the same if the violent situation in a state during election persists. In fact, if the state has a history of consistent poll violence, it makes it all the more important for the EC to take drastic measures to control the situation.
The only justified criticism of the EC’s move so far has been about how the body was too late in taking this decision. Some Opposition leaders have also expressed legitimate concerns over why the EC chose 10 pm on Thursday as the deadline for campaigning, giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi enough time to address two rallies in the state.
But as far as the premature end to campaigning itself is concerned, it seems the EC was forced to take such action as the Mamata Banerjee government in the state repeatedly failed to provide a safe and secure atmosphere to its people for voting.
With inputs from agencies
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