The Assembly election results of four crucial states, and one union territory, will be clear on Thursday. Many a politician’s fate will be marred and made in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and the UT of Puducherry. Of these four, West Bengal can be quite politically volatile, even Kerala and Assam for that matter. Kerala has witnessed some vicious acts of violence on political activists by their opponents in the run-up to the elections, while West Bengal has too many anti-socials masquerading as party workers and spreading mayhem, with or without their political masters’ backing. Most of these thugs, especially in West Bengal, are adept at street violence, with guns and bombs being their favourite modes of dispensing “quick justice” or avenging any perceived slights. Fear of violence is one of the reasons why the polling process in West Bengal had to be staggered over six phases, something that is done only in strife-torn states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The situation is made all the more grim by the fact that Bengal is not facing any insurgencies as such to “merit” this extended poll process, unlike the three states mentioned. Even then, in spite of all the measures in place, Bengal saw umpteen incidents of muscle flexing by ruling party members. Worse, in fierce clashes between different parties during voting, at least one person was killed. Complaints are now pouring in of goons, mainly owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress, harassing opponents for “daring to act as polling agents” of rival parties. Slogans are being shouted in Kolkata and the districts that rivals will be “skinned alive” once they lose on 19 May. This must not pass unpunished.
However, the Communist Party of India, which is a contender to power this time, while crying foul, should not forget the mayhem some of its cadres perpetrated on its opponents in the 34 years it ruled the state. It was in the time of the CPM-led Left Front government that political violence lost its ideological moorings. In Bengal, the extreme left Naxalite violence of the late 1960s and early 1970s had some ideological underpinning, however flawed and sinister the justification for such acts may have been. But it was in the rule of the “moderate” left, the CPM, that political violence degenerated into turf wars and large-scale violence against opponents. Too many such actions by some CPM cadres have bloodied Bengal’s recent past, with terrorising rivals being the sole motive of the ruling dispensation of the time. When the people of Bengal voted Mamata Banerjee to power five years ago, they expected her to rid the state of this menace, but instead, sadly, her Trinamool Congress, to break CPM’s stranglehold on Bengal, has often internalised this “culture”. As a result, things have been going downhill mostly. This has to stop. Whatever be the election results, violence must end. There cannot be any reprisals. In Bengal, the Trinamool and the CPM must take the lead on this.