West Bengal

Victor’s violence

Print edition : June 24, 2016

Surjya Kanta Mishra, State secretary of the CPI(M), visiting a party member attacked allegedly by Trinamool Congress workers in Myshora village in Purbo Medinipur district. Photo: Ganashakti

An injured child in Basirhat in 24 Paraganas district. Photo: Ganashakti

Bijoli Mitra, a CPI(M) leader, wounded by alleged Trinamool miscreants. Photo: Ganashakti

The ransacked office of the CPI(M) MLC in Rashmoni Bazar, Kolkata. Photo: Ganashakti

The repeated attacks on the oppostion after the Trinamool Congress scored a huge victory vindicate the allegation that the ruling party wants an opposition-free political scenario in the State.

ON several occasions during the recently concluded Assembly elections in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sent a chilling message to the opposition with the promise that she would settle scores “inch by inch” after May 19, the day when results were declared. Even if it is assumed that the Trinamool Congress supremo was speaking metaphorically, her party workers took her words literally.

As promised, on May 19, even before the counting process was over and as soon as it became clear that the Trinamool Congress had won, violence broke out in different parts of the State. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress —who had joined forces to take on the Trinamool in this election—became the main targets of the attacks by those claiming allegiance to the Trinamool. Offices of the two parties were vandalised, their leaders and workers attacked, and their supporters threatened and driven out of their homes and even villages. Senior CPI(M) leader Ratna Dutta’s house was attacked in Beliaghata, Kolkata, and the house of the Congress candidate from Panihati (North 24 Paraganas), Sanmay Banerjee, bombed. Another contestant from Panihati, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Dipak Kundu, also claimed that his house was targeted by alleged Trinamool goons. A Trinamool activist from Bagmundi in Purulia was killed, allegedly by Congress workers.

In the violence that continued for several days, nobody from the opposition camp was safe; everyone, from leaders to ordinary party workers and even supporters, faced the fury of goons allegedly belonging to the ruling party. According to CPI(M) estimates, around 600 Left party offices were attacked, hundreds of houses of Left Front activists and supporters ransacked or burnt down, and scores of people hounded out of their homes.

Even women and invalids were not spared. According to reports, Arpita Mandal of Bagdah in North 24 Paraganas, who was two months pregnant, suffered a miscarriage after being beaten up by alleged Trinamool miscreants. Former Trinamool Minister Upendra Nath Biswas was defeated by the CPI(M)-Congress alliance in Bagdah.

In Kolkata, Chandra Singh suffered a miscarriage after being attacked by alleged Trinamool activists. This time, however, it was an inner-party feud that brought about the attack. In Birbhum district, 40-year-old Chaina Ghosh, a cancer patient, and her relative, Purnima, were reportedly beaten with iron rods by alleged Trinamool workers on the suspicion that she and her family had not voted for the ruling party.

The attacks have been particularly severe in places where the Jote (as the Left Front-Congress tie-up is popularly referred to) managed to snatch victories. One of the most significant victories for the Jote was in Haldia, in the heart of the Trinamool stronghold of Purbo Medinipur, where the CPI(M)’s Tapasi Mondal defeated the Trinamool’s Madhurima Mondal by 21,493 votes. “From the moment it became clear that the Trinamool had won [in the State], party workers began to attack a section of the voters of the region merely on the suspicion that they had voted for the CPI(M). Our supporters were picked up from their houses and beaten up. The houses of our zonal leaders were wrecked,” Tapasi Mondal told Frontline. In the early hours of May 26, a week after the results were announced, bombs were hurled at Tapasi Mondal’s house. “There were men on motorbikes who threatened me saying they would kill me if I tried to take any action against them,” she said.

System of punishment

Attacks have been taking place in Jadavpur, where CPI(M) heavyweight Sujan Chakraborty defeated former Trinamool Minister Manish Gupta. According to Chakraborty, who is also the CPI(M) district secretary of South 24 Paraganas, a system of punishment is being imposed by the ruling party upon those suspected of being supporters of the opposition. Numerous social benefits doled out by the government under its various schemes are being “unofficially” withdrawn at a local level, and hefty fines are being levied—once again unofficially and at a local level—apparently for not voting Trinamool. “The Trinamool people say our government gave you this cycle or this card by which you are getting rice at Rs.2 a kg, but since you voted for the opposition we are taking back these benefits. I am getting reports from the district that huge fines are being imposed on people. I just got to know that in one village, a total fine of Rs.15 lakh had been imposed on the villagers as punishment for not supporting the Trinamool. People are too scared even to go to the police,” Chakraborty told Frontline.

The attacks were not restricted to just those seats where the opposition won but were also carried out in constituencies where the contest was close, and even in places where the ruling party won. In the Kasba constituency in south Kolkata, where the CPI(M)’s Shatarup Ghosh lost by 11,884 votes to the Trinamool’s Javed Ahmed Khan, more than 60 incidents of violence against the Left Front took place within a week of the results being declared. Even Shatarup Ghosh was not spared. Around 1:30 a.m. on May 22, two days after the results were declared, a dozen miscreants on motorbikes attacked the house of the young CPI(M) leader. “A group of people armed with iron rods broke the main gate of our house and pelted stones at the building. They demanded that I come out of the house. Most of them had their faces covered with cloth. But when I told them that I was coming out, they left. There have been continuous attacks on our party members and supporters in the Kasba area. We have been registering complaints with the police, but so far no step has been taken by them and not a single arrest has been made [as of May 28],” Shatarup Ghosh told Frontline.

Even the BJP, which won just three seats in the election, was not spared. Rupa Ganguly, the president of the BJP’s women’s wing in Bengal, was attacked by alleged Trinamool activists when, on May 22, she went to Kakdwip, South 24 Paraganas, to visit a party member who was injured in the violence that immediately followed the declaration of results. Her car was damaged and she and her co-passengers sustained injuries. It is a telling sign, reflective of the kind of political situation prevailing in the State, that none of the opposition parties at the State level was represented at the swearing-in ceremony of the new government on May 27. In fact, even after the swearing-in, the attacks on the opposition continued unabated in different parts of the State.

The intensity of the violence on the opposition has come as a shock and surprise to the people of the State. It was not as though there was a change of government; if there were any reasons to believe that the Jote could topple the ruling party, which seemed to be staggering under the weight of a series of setbacks just before the election, the results completely put to rest all such thoughts. The Trinamool returned to power for a second consecutive term, winning 211 of the 294 Assembly seats. With the Jote having won just 77 seats and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance six (the BJP three, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha three), the opposition parties in the State were down and out. Unleashing unnecessary violence on members and supporters of the opposition aroused the suspicion that perhaps there was a method behind the madness. It vindicated the long-standing allegation of the opposition that the Trinamool had been systematically working towards an opposition-free political scenario in the State, and one of the methods used to achieve this end was suppression through terror.

Eye on real estate

According to Shatarup Ghosh, the real reason for the attacks are financial as well as political. “I believe the actual reason for these terror tactics is to facilitate real estate development in the slum areas of Kolkata, where the Left has a strong support base. The slum dwellers are ostensibly attacked for supporting the Jote, but actually the plan is to oust them from their homes there. A nexus has developed between the local councillors, land promoters, the construction mafia and the raw material suppliers. From the moment the results were out, Trinamool workers were going from door to door in the slums, snatching away their Corporation work permits and telling them to leave, apparently for voting for the Jote,” said Shatarup Ghosh.

As the violence in the State showed no signs of abating, a combined delegation of the Left Front and the Congress and a delegation of the State BJP met Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi separately, seeking his intervention. A statement issued by the Governor’s office on May 25 said: “The Hon’ble Governor has sent a letter to the Hon’ble Chief Minister, West Bengal, today urging that the law and order enforcing mechanism in the State be suitably instructed to take prompt and strict action irrespective of political affiliation to deter such attacks.”

Even if the government maintained a non-committal silence on the issue of the violence perpetrated against the opposition, Mamata Banerjee, according to Trinamool sources, was reportedly alarmed and concerned about the continuing violence between different factions within her own party. “In an internal meeting after the results were out, Didi told some of the party leaders individually that she would not tolerate inner-party feuds. The message has been sent loud and clear to all that violence within the party must end,” said a Trinamool source. However, it remains to be seen whether Mamata Banerjee will also send a “loud and clear” message to end the attacks on the opposition.

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