Amidst large scale violence that claimed more than 45 lives in the West Bengal panchayat polls, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) won 14767 gram panchayat seats, as against the 3344 seats of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Out of a total of 341 panchayat samitis, the TMC is leading in 28 while results of the other seats are awaited. Held cyclically a year before the Lok Sabha polls, the panchayat elections are considered a precursor to what is to follow in a largely rural state. The genesis of the TMC’s electoral dominance over West Bengal is seen to have been the 2008 panchayat elections, in which it (along with the Congress) punctured the Left Front’s decades-long rule, bringing down the then ruling coalition’s tally to just above 50 per cent from the usual 85-90 per cent.
But, never before as many as 45 people were killed in West Bengal panchayat poll violence, which continues unabated even while the results are being announced. And it is clear that the violence culture, which began during the six-decade-long Left Front rule, continues and, clearly, the ruling TMC has learnt to execute it to perfection. This is evident from how the violence broke out from the day of filing nominations to the counting. Mamata Banerjee’s party may boast of winning the elections, but never before the state has witnessed such violence. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which was reluctant to act against the TMC may take a different posture this time. Governor Anand Bose, who visited the violence-hit areas last week, rushed to national capital to appraise Union Home Minister Amit Shah of the gravity of the situation, dropped enough hints that the Centre is taking a serious view this time around. Whether, the Centre dare to take punitive action against the TMC or not only time will tell.
Back to polls and related violence. The TMC and the Congress wrested two Zilla Parishads each from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front as well in 2008, which was unprecedented, and ran the Left close in several others. A year later, in the aftermath of the Singur agitation and a consolidation of Congress forces in the TMC, Mamata’s party upset the Left with a massive victory in the Lok Sabha polls, a trend that’s yet to be reversed. The 2018 panchayat polls, too, were a precursor. Due to the alleged massive rigging and violence a huge number of panchayat seats were declared unopposed in the TMC’s favour. Yet, the BJP in 2019 sprang a surprise by winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats.
While the latest results ensure the TMC’s envious hold over the rural areas by bagging 14765, the BJP could take credit for coming a distant second with 3344. And, the CPI-M (1086) and Congress (783) just half of the BJP’s which clearly indicates that the BJP continues to cling on its strongholds and avert any possible threat to its Lok Sabha tally in 2024, as of now.
Claims and counter-claims started and the BJP feels had not the ruling TMC unleashed the violence the results would have been different. The saffron party also blames the CPI-M and Congress, for having discreet understanding to prevent the BJP from expanding its base in rural areas of West Bengal. On the contrary, the CPI-M and Congress accuse the BJP for reaching tacit understanding with the TMC to wipe them out. The BJP which polled 38.14 per cent to bag 77 seats two years ago in the assembly elections against the TMC’s 213 seats with 47.9 per cent, undoubtedly holding on to its ground yet again, if these elections results are any indication. In the gram panchayat polls held in 2018, the BJP bagged 5779, while the Left Front 1713 and the Congress 1066, and others securing 1960.
In Panchayat Samitis, the TMC won 8062, while the BJP 769, the Left Front 129 and Congress 133 and the rest 121. Even in Zilla Parishads too, the TMC held maximum of 793, while the BJP 22, leaving the Left and Congress with just one each. Against this backdrop, it is loud and clear for the TMC that the upcoming Lok Sabha elections are no cake walk, as the Central forces may take complete control to conduct a free and fair election under the directives of the Chief Election Commissioner. Meanwhile, the ruling of the apex court, which is likely to take up petitions challenging the state election commission’s conduct with the alleged connivance of the Mamata government, will have a bearing on the next year’s Lok Sabha LS polls. So is the Centre’s next move too!
The Centre too may not dare to impose a President’s rule in West Bengal for the state’s failure to conduct a peaceful panchayat election. For, the entire Opposition is pointing an accusing finger at it for its handling of the situation at violence-hit Manipur. The government too may have to face the wrath of the apex court which is dealing with a clutch of petitions on governance shortcomings in Manipur. One wonders, where former Congress President and diqualified Congress MP, Rahul Gandhi is hiding? Why he is not taking about the ‘democracy is dead’ in West Bengal?