West Bengal’s political violence: A fight for resource control?

Violence and intimidation reign supreme in rural West Bengal, where political power means control over resources and money.

Published : Nov 28, 2023 18:18 IST - 8 MINS READ

Houses set ablaze in retaliation following the killing of a Trinamool leader in Joynagar, South 24 Parganas, on November 13.

Houses set ablaze in retaliation following the killing of a Trinamool leader in Joynagar, South 24 Parganas, on November 13. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

Four months after a panchayat election in which more than 50 people lost their lives, the cycle of political violence in rural Bengal has not abated. The recent killings of two Trinamool Congress panchayat leaders and the violent reaction that followed highlight once again the deteriorating law and order situation in West Bengal and also throw light on the nature of the relationship between violence and politics in the State.

Saifuddin Laskar, 43, an influential Trinamool leader of Joynagar, South 24 Parganas, was gunned down as he was walking from his home to a nearby mosque in the early hours of November 13. Saifuddin was the zonal president of the Bamangachhi area, and his wife, Serifa Bibi, is a two-time pradhan of the Bamangachhi panchayat. Five assailants on two motorbikes shot him at point-blank range and tried to escape, but two of them were overpowered by local people, who beat one of them to death and handed over the other to the police.

The mastermind behind the murder is said to be Anisur Rahaman Laskar, who had quit the Trinamool after being denied the ticket in the rural elections and joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in July this year. The police caught Anisur, along with another accomplice, Kamaluddin Dhali, on November 17 from Nadia district.

Also Read | Blast in Duttapukur illegal firecracker factory exposes West Bengal’s law and order crisis

Hours after Saifuddin’s murder, Trinamool activists stormed into the largely pro-CPI(M) Daluakhaki village, where Anisur used to live, and went on a rampage. The mob burned down more than a dozen houses of CPI(M) supporters and standing crops as well. They did not even spare children’s schoolbooks. The residents fled the area fearing for their lives, and two days later the women and children returned to salvage what they could from the ashes and rubble.

A visibly distressed woman alleged that the attack took place in the presence of the police. “There is nothing left. None of our ornaments, not even children’s clothes,” said another resident. Seven days after the incident, only three people have been arrested in connection with the violence.

Three days after the killing at Joynagar, a bomb attack killed Mohammad Rupchand Mondal, a Trinamool panchayat leader from North 24 Parganas. On November 16, at around 7 pm, Rupchand, 44, the pradhan of Amdanga panchayat, was reportedly chatting with a few people when a group of miscreants hurled bombs in his direction and ran away. Rupchand succumbed to his injuries at the local hospital. According to his father, Mohammad Ali Mondal, a rival faction of the Trinamool might be behind Rupchand’s murder. “He became the pradhan and was doing everything; that made things difficult for the other section of his party.... He had become very big and the others were not able to do anything,” he said.

Not everybody in the regional Trinamool outfit was happy with Rupchand getting the ticket in the panchayat elections. Rafiqur Rahman, Trinamool’s MLA from Amdanga, even alleged at that time that Rupchand had “paid” to get his position in the panchayat. “My assumption is that more than Rs.10 lakh was paid.... I can say there was an exchange of money,” Rahman had told the media at that time. Rupchand had dismissed the allegation as a “lie” and said his candidature was the collective decision of the party.

Police personnel keep vigil after a clash between supporters of the Indian Secular Front and the Trinamool Congress in the Bhangore area of South 24 Parganas on June 15, ahead of the panchayat elections.

Police personnel keep vigil after a clash between supporters of the Indian Secular Front and the Trinamool Congress in the Bhangore area of South 24 Parganas on June 15, ahead of the panchayat elections. | Photo Credit: PTI

The opposition parties, including the BJP, the Congress, and the CPI(M), maintain that both murders are the result of Trinamool factional feuds. “They are trying to hush it up and shift the attention by placing the blame on another party. All this drama is just so that nobody can point a finger at the Trinamool,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, State Congress president and Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, while talking about Saifuddin’s murder.

According to senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, an inner-party struggle for a share of resources and money at the grassroots level resulted in the killings. “The State government’s inaction is giving scope to one section of the ruling party to target another. It is the Trinamool people and the common people who are ultimately affected by the government’s attitude,” Chakraborty told Frontline.

Fight for economic control

Violence at the panchayat level has intensified over the years to the extent that it is no longer confined to election season. This year, the killings began in May, two months before Panchayat elections, and the latest murders come four months after the results, indicating it might not end any time soon. Amid allegations of widespread violence and rigging, the Trinamool swept the elections, winning 79 per cent of the gram panchayats, 92 per cent of the panchayat samitis, and all 20 zilla parishads. With the opposition’s presence in rural politics dwindling, one would have expected the violence to diminish substantially. The fact that it has not points to a unique situation in West Bengal’s politics. What was earlier a struggle for control of an area between opposing political forces has become a fight for economic control mostly between factions of the ruling party itself.

Lack of industrialisation and growing unemployment have resulted in a massive dependence on government schemes, and in rural West Bengal, economic power comes with the distribution of relief and employment through government projects. Significantly, the Fifteenth Finance Commission has recommended Rs.2,36,805 crore as the grant for constituted rural local bodies in 28 States, and Rs.43,928 crore for strengthening primary health infrastructure and facilities in rural areas under the supervision of Panchayati Raj institutions from 2021-22 to 2025-26. West Bengal’s total share of this fund is estimated at Rs.17,199.4 crore. While 60 per cent of the amount is earmarked for national priorities, 40 per cent is “untied” and to be used “at the discretion of Panchayati Raj Institutions for improving basic services”.

Surajit C. Mukhopadhyay, political observer and professor of sociology, pointed out that the continuing violence in rural West Bengal is nothing but a “turf war to control the State’s largesse”. “The root of violence lies in abject unemployment and dependence on State handouts. North 24 Parganas has one of the highest figures of outmigration. He who controls the panchayat controls the money flow. But we know for certain that if the State wants to stop the violence, it can. The fact that it is not doing so means that it is complicit in the prevalent situation,” Mukhopadhyay told Frontline.

  • Political violence in rural West Bengal has intensified in recent years, with two Trinamool Congress panchayat leaders killed in November 2022.
  • The violence is rooted in a struggle for control of economic resources, as panchayats have become increasingly powerful in distributing government funds.
  • The ruling Trinamool Congress party is divided into factions, and the violence is often perpetrated by one faction against another.

V for vendetta

Observers have also pointed out that violence has become commonplace in Bengal politics. “It is expected that the ruling party will burn down our houses since we do opposition politics. This is the way things are,” said one of the women of Daluakhaki village whose house was burnt down by Trinamool activists.

According to the psephologist and academic Biswanath Chakraborty, “Violence has been institutionalised in West Bengal, and now we see it has found acceptability at the village level. It is almost as if the victims agree that the ruling party has the right to destroy the property of opposition supporters.”

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cannot afford her State to be perceived as one with serious law and order problems.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cannot afford her State to be perceived as one with serious law and order problems. | Photo Credit: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

The violence appears to be exacerbated by a section of ruling party leaders often seen exhorting their followers to retaliate with aggression rather than let the police and the administration do their job. Bivas Sardar, the Trinamool MLA from Baruipur Purbo, South 24 Parganas, appeared to justify the attack on the houses of CPI(M) supporters when he said: “It would have been good if it did not take place, but it is natural that it did. You know the politics of rural Bengal, if someone is killed, will the others spare [the killers]?”

Even senior Cabinet Minister Udayan Guha recently threatened to drag opposition activists out of their houses and beat them. “Even though I am a Minister, what I am saying may be against the law, but if anyone harms our leaders or supporters, then we will drag them out of their houses and beat them up,” said Guha.

According to Biswanath Chakraborty, while in earlier days the ruling party would have been embarrassed about such a breakdown of law and order, “now a section of the leadership supports it by encouraging a violent response, thus undermining the authority of the administration and the police”.

Also Read | Contract killings on the rise in West Bengal

The attacks, the violence, and the murders also appear to be part of a legacy of pre-election violence that West Bengal has historically seen, regardless of the party in power. “It has been observed that over the years before any major election, opposition supporters are intimidated and tortured by the ruling party,” said Chakraborty. Perhaps the only difference now is the Trinamool’s overwhelming dominance of the State.

However, this could backfire at a time when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is projecting herself as one of the key political figures spearheading the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) against the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Mamata cannot afford her State to be perceived as one with serious law and order problems, particularly when her party is also under the scrutiny of Central investigating agencies that are probing various scams in West Bengal.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment