Political violence in West Bengal

Cleansing drive

Print edition :

BJP Mahila Morcha president Locket Chatterjee (centre) at a Yuva Morcha rally in Kolkata on June 2 against the killing of BJP activists Trilochan Mahato and Dulal Kumar in Purulia allegedly by Trinamool Congress workers. Photo: PTI

The Trinamool Congress’ plan to achieve an “opposition-free” West Bengal is seen as the reason for the political violence that continues unabated in the State.

SUPRUDIH village in Balarampur block in West Bengal’s Purulia district woke up on the morning of May 30 to a horrific sight. Trilochan Mahato, a local youth, was found hanging from a tree near his house, with a grisly message scrawled on his T-shirt: “Ebar bojh 18 bochhor boyeshey BJP kora” (This is what happens when you work for the BJP from the age of 18). A handwritten note found near his body said: “From the age of 18 you have been doing BJP politics, today your life ends. Have been trying to do this from the time of the elections, but I couldn’t. Today you die.” Trilochan, 21, who was a student of history at Balarampur College, was an active Bharatiya Janata Party supporter.

Incidentally, the party won all the gram panchayat seats in Balarampur. As a matter of fact, Balarampur is one of the very few pockets in the State where the opposition parties were able to do well in the recently concluded civic elections, which the ruling Trinamool Congress Party won overwhelmingly.

On June 2, another BJP worker, Dulal Kumar, 32, of Balarampur block was found hanging from an electric transmission tower. The families of both victims alleged that Trinamool Congress miscreants were behind the murders. The Trinamool has denied any hand in the killings. The BJP has demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe. “The continued violence in West Bengal is shameful and inhuman. Mamata Banerjee’s government has completely failed to maintain law and order in the State,” BJP national president Amit Shah said on social media.

Trinamool’s strategy

On June 3, an attempt was made on the life of Atabul Islam, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) activist, who was elected to the Mekhliganj Jamaldah gram panchayat in Coochbehar district. While Islam suffered serious injuries, another CPI(M) supporter, Ramjan Miyan, lost his life trying to protect him. In their attempt to remove the sole opposition winner from the gram panchayat, alleged Trinamool activists launched an attack on Atabul’s village, grievously injuring 10 people.

Senior CPI(M) leader and leader of the Left Legislature Party in the State Assembly, Sujan Chakraborty, told Frontline: “Wherever the Left or other opposition candidates have won, they are being forced to step down or join the Trinamool, or are physically eliminated. This has been the Trinamool’s strategy to completely do away with any political opposition. But now there are signs of resistance among the common people, even among Trinamool supporters who have not been allowed to cast their votes.”

The back-to-back murders and the repeated political clashes in different parts of the State have brought to the fore the ruling party’s programme of not allowing any space to the opposition in the State. The cycle of violence that began in the wake of the panchayat elections in May is continuing a month later.

In what is seen as one of the most controversial and bloody civic elections in recent times, in which at least 48 people reportedly lost their lives, the Trinamool won 95 per cent of the zilla parishad seats, around 81 per cent of the panchayat samiti seats, and nearly 67 per cent of the gram panchayat seats. Right from the start of the elections, the Trinamool’s clarion call was “opposition-free” election result process. This precipitated unprecedented violence right from the nomination stage itself, which claimed the lives of more than 30 people.

Opposition candidates were prevented from filing their nominations, so much so that 34 per cent of the total seats went uncontested by the opposition.

The social scientist and psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty said: “Violence is not new in West Bengal politics. Nor are the attempts by the ruling party to have an opposition-less political scenario a novel phenomenon. But it has been exacerbated over the years to finally arrive at this alarming situation under the Trinamool, where even the most minimum representation by the opposition achieved through democratic means is being brutally denied by the ruling party.”

The attempt by the Trinamool to capture seats that had gone to the opposition is at the root of the persisting violence in the State.

“Opposition-free Purulia”

It is significant that just a day before Trilochan Mahato’s body was found hanging from a tree, Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha member, who is widely considered to be her successor, called for an “opposition-free Purulia”. When the opposition parties tried to link the two consecutive murders to his comment, Abhishek sought to clarify by saying: “I had said that I will go to Purulia and make it birodhi sunya [zero opposition]. Birodhi sunya by democratic means is no sin. It has to be kept in mind I had said birodhi sunya, not birodhi mukta [opposition free].” Political observers are having a hard time trying to find the fine line separating birodhi sunya and birodhi mukta.

The Trinamool Congress top brass, denying the opposition’s allegations, suggested that “outsiders” might have had a hand in the Purulia murders.

Rajya Sabha member and chief national spokesperson of the party, Derek O’ Brien, commented on social media: “All angles must be probed… What role did Jharkhand border have to play? What elements of Bajrang Dal, Maoist or BJP involved” (sic.).

Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said: “Something scribbled on the back of a murder victim does not substantiate any claim that the Trinamool was behind the murders.”

However, Trilochan’s family maintains that he had called them the night before his body was found and told them that he was being held by Trinamool activists. Dulal Kumar’s family has also pointed an accusing finger at the Trinamool. Dismissing the post-mortem report, which suggested suicide, Dulal’s wife told the media: “We were a happy family with three children. He was absolutely normal when I saw him last… We do not have any financial problems. Why should he kill himself?” Dulal’s family members allege that he was killed by Trinamool workers who had threatened him after the panchayat elections.

The Trinamool had its share of victims. On June 5, its activist Mohsin Khan was shot dead, and on June 9, another activist, Kartik Dhaki, was hacked to death. Both the victims hailed from Howrah district. The ruling party blames the BJP for the killings.

The Trinamool’s overwhelming victory in the civic elections did little to quell the violence. Allegations abound that the party is using strong-arm tactics to secure the seats the opposition won. There have been a number of instances of elected opposition candidates being forced to join the Trinamool or step down from their posts.

“The Trinamool failed to secure a majority in 380 of the 3,207 gram panchayats that had gone to the polls. Opposition parties allege that the Trinamool has now taken control of a large number of these gram panchyats either through intimidation or by offering some kind of reward,” said Chakraborty.