By Debasish Chakraborty
Peoples Democracy, October 11, 2015
Kolkata: ‘DACOITY in Daylight’, ‘Blood on the streets as Bengal goes to the polls in civic elections’, ‘Hide, Didi, Hide’, ‘ Unabated Lumpenraj’, ‘Elders stand up to goons of Trinamool in Bidhannagar’- these are some of the headlines in leading newspapers on October 4. They were reporting polls in three Corporations in West Bengal the day before. Paragraphs after paragraphs were written how the armed gangs of the ruling party practically invaded localities, particularly in Bidhannagar, and captured booths after fierce attacks on voters.
All elections, including Pachayat elections in 2013, Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Municipalities polls including Kolkata Corporation in April this year were marred by widespread rigging, booth capturing and violence. Readers of Peoples Democracy would remember horrible facts of how TMC captured hundreds of booths in Kolkata and North 24 Parganas in particular in April. In many areas, the ruling party candidate got even 98 percent of the polled votes! Elections in Bengal have become farce to a degree never imagined in any place in the country.
The apprehension was there this time too when Bidhannagar, Asansol and Bali (as newly added part of Howrah Corporation) went to polls. In Bidhannagar, Left Front candidates were threatened, some of them were forced to remain indoors throughout the campaign period. Left activists were attacked, campaign materials destroyed. Three days before the elections, gangs of TMC activists, mostly rowdies were brought into Bidhannagar from different areas. They were kept in government-owned stadium, lodges and hotels. They were brought in broad daylight in buses and cars. Nothing was done to ensure peaceful polling despite repeated appeals to administration. In fact, police was accomplice to the whole design.
On the polling day, these gangs began to take control from the morning. They began to beat up Left polling agents, chasing away voters, thrashing residents near polling booths, roaming in gangs and converting the whole municipality area into a terror zone. The people of the state were shocked to watch this blatant and violent attack on democracy in television from the morning. Scores were injured, including elderly voters and women who dared to stand in the queue.
By 10 am, it was clear that an unprecedented rigging was taking place in Bidhannagar. In most wards, opposition agents or supporters were chased away. Roads were deserted and outsiders were on rampage with the help of the police. The wrath turned towards the media persons covering these scenes. One after another journalist was attacked; many of them were beaten up severely. Altogether 20 journalists and photographers from television and print media were attacked. Some of them had to be hospitalised. Women journalists were threatened of dire consequences including rape. Cameras were destroyed. The attacks were led by the TMC MLAs. Never before had such a large scale attack on media happened anywhere in the country. The real face of Mamata Banerjee rule was thoroughly exposed to the entire nation.
Meanwhile in Asansol, many booths were captured, though the resistance was far more intense in Raniganj, Jamuria and Asansol city. Coal mafias led attacks there with connivance from police. In Bali, people were chased away from booths and no semblance of election was witnessed.
Only exception was Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad, where three tier panchayats went to polls. United vigil from the people forced the ruling party hoodlums to back away and a peaceful voting took place there.
WAVES OF PROTEST
The ferocious attack on democratic rights of the people shattered the conscience of the state and wide protests took place. The Left Front demanded a re-poll in three Corporations. Immediate sit-in in front of the state election commission had started. The Left front also gave a call for Bidhannagar Bandh on October 5, which was withdrawn only after state election commissioner declared deferment of counting for an indefinite period.
More farcical incidents were in store, though. After the postponement of the counting, TMC activists led by senior state ministers stormed the state election commission’s office. The election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay proved himself a loyal follower of the chief minister throughout his tenure and never exercised the legal powers to protect the sanctity of free and fair elections. He was widely criticised as a ‘stooge’ of the ruling party. However, with widespread criticism from all quarters, the election commissioner tried to deflect the anger in a limited manner. Even that was not permitted and senior ministers threatened him with dire consequences. The election commissioner was forced to first rescind his order and then resign altogether. He put in his papers to the governor and within hours the transport secretary of the state was appointed as new commissioner, simultaneously holding both the posts. Till the filing of this report, the entire episode remains undecided.
The state rose in protest. Rallies and protest marches took place in all corners of the state against the murder of democracy. The media persons took out a huge procession in Kolkata and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits. Renowned intellectuals issued a strong statement condemning the attack on democracy. Signatories included Mrinal Sen, Soumitra Chatterjee, poet Sankha Ghosh, film directors Srijit Mukherjee, Aparna Sen, actor Abir Chatterjee and former state election commissioner Mira Pande.
A WEEK OF AUTHORITARIAN BRUTALITY
In fact, the first week of October has exposed the authoritarian nature of the TMC regime in a brutal form. Nearly 300 Left activists were injured, many of them severely, when police attacked a rally in Kolkata on October 1. Police brutally charged batons on the rally which was proceeding towards Kolkata police headquarters, protesting the deteriorating law and order in the city and hundreds of false cases. The rally was attacked nearly a kilometre away from the police headquarters at Lalbazar. Police was determined to spill blood and attacked the marchers without any provocation and warning.
CPI(M) Central Committee member and CITU state secretary Dipak Dasgupta, Polit Bureau member Md Salim, Party state committee member Manab Mukherjee, Rupa Bagchi, senior RSP leader Sukumar Ghosh and front ranking leaders of Kolkata district were among those injured. Many were hospitalised. Many of them were hit on the head. CPI(M) activist Bishwanath Kundu was grievously injured and he had to go through an emergency brain operation.
Lalbazar march was organised by the Left Front in Kolkata. Processions started from three points. Senior Left Front leaders like Biman Basu and Suryakanta Misra led these processions. Thousands of people marched towards Lalbazar. At a point, police suddenly charged towards the rally. They began lathicharge without any provocation. Left leaders tried to persuade them to restrain but without any effect. Even after the first attack, the protesters refused to turn back and then came the second spur of attack. Large police force along with the RAF was used in this attack. Women protesters were beaten up by police too. Many senior and aged protesters were mercilessly beaten. The campaign vehicle of the Left Front was vandalised by the police.
A delegation of Left leaders, meanwhile was scheduled to submit memorandum to the police commissioner. But they refused doing so, protesting the brutal attack. Suryakanta Misra and other leaders rushed to the spot and a road blockade started. It continued for hours.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury condemned this barbaric attack in a huge rally in Mathurapur on October 2. While addressing the public meeting in connection with the SFI state conference, Yechury warned the ruling party that such attacks on democratic movements in 1970s preceded the formation of the Left Front government in the state. The people of West Bengal would never allow such brutality and would respond in a fitting manner.
On October 4, thousands of people participated in a protest march in Kolkata against the police brutality and rigging in the civic polls.