Panchayat Poll in West Bengal
Asim Kumar Mitra
The last phase of Panchayat Poll in West Bengal took place on July 25, 2013. The election noticed violence galore and peculiarly enough, no party could claim that they were not involved in violence. Still the authorities, who had conducted the elections claimed that “barring a few sporadic incidents, Panchayat elections in the state was peaceful”. May be at the back of these authorities’ mind was playing death-figures during the last Panchayat election in the state. It was much larger than the death figures of this year.
But the question is, why this, seemingly, all out violence? The number of seats in this 3-Tier Panchayat Poll was Zilla Parishad – 17, Panchayat Samiti 341, and Gram Panchayat 3,354. The number of candidates in the fray was 45,635 and among them 5,098 Trinamool Congress (TMC) elected unopposed. The trend already set up in this five-phase Panchayat election has given a positive indication that TMC is going to win the election hands down if not sweep it. Many political Pundits have already passed opinions that this election is crucial for the TMC for the simple reason that this would pave their way to make an inroad into the national political map. If TMC becomes victorious in Panchayat Polls, they would do well in the forthcoming Parliamentary election of 2014.
There is a survey report done by CSDS-CNN-IBN on the prospects of parties in the next Parliamentary elections. It said that if the election is going to take place now then the TMC is going to win 23 to 27 seats in Parliament. They had won 19 seats in 2009 Parliamentary election. May be or may not be that this is going to be an eventuality. But Mamata is not bothered. At this juncture, all she is concerned to bag more and more seats in Panchayat election as she wants to hold every inch of rural Bengal. Because for her the Bengal Panchayat elections are a high stake game, not just because they are about power and patronage network. They have lot to do with money as well. Reason why politicians are locked in such an intense bloody battle for every inch of territory.
The Panchayati Raj system in Bengal works differently from the rest of the country. Here, the Panchayat Pradhan or the Zilla Parishad Chairman is all powerful. He has the final say in most matters relating to development and governance, hence it is to him that the ordinary villager turn to for everything from his birth certificate to his daily job.
Over the years these power and funds have developed to the Gram Panchayat and in the rural hinterland local bodies have emerged as key power centres. So critical, that they can make and unmake governments.
The lure of a Zilla Parishad chairmanship is so strong for a politician that he would rather go flat out for the post rather than become MLA or MP. The Zilla Parishad is the top most layer of the three-tier Panchayat system.
At the grassroots level, the Gram Panchayat Pradhan is nodal person. He holds the key to rural life and handles between Rs 40 lakh and Rs. 1 crore a year in centrally-assisted and state government grants.
Only for this reason, in rural areas of West Bengal you will definitely come across with a Bengali slogan: “OPOREY BHAGABAN, NEECHE GRAM PRADHAN’ the meaning of this slogan is “God is in the heaven, but the Gram Pradhan is within your reach i.e. on the ground.
“Federal Front” of Mamata Banerjee
Mirage or Miracle
Ms Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, was toying with the idea of forming one “Federal Front” with the help of regional parties. Her premise for this purpose was that the people are totally disgusted with the fraudulatory dealing of the Congress and at the same time they are not ready to accept communalism. Hence, one non-Congress and non-BJP alliance is very much necessary to give an outlet to this section of people. In fact, Mamata had started this exercise of forming a third front of regional parties and keeping this in mind few months back she had a detailed talk with Nitish Kumar. Some three months back she had contacted Ms Jayalalithaa and apprises her of the idea of forming this third front to wipe out the uncertainty of political scenario.
The primary enthusiasm of Mamata Banerjee for forming a Federal Front has already been evaporated as almost all non-Congress and non-BJP political parties are keeping their options open as they do not want themselves to be marked as a crony of this alliance or that alliance. Leaders like Mulayam Singh has bluntly expressed his opinion that they are not thinking to join hands with any alliance. In his opinion, this should be an after-poll operation.
In this connection two developments had taken place. One: at this point of time all political parties are seriously concerned about consolidating and expanding their own power base so that in the event of joining any alliance. Two: No peripheral parties are thinking of forming any alliance before the general elections.
In recent Rajya Sabha election, Congress has given support to Kanimozhi, daughter of Karunanidhi, to win over their sympathy and support for the UPA. No doubt, Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh is in jail now. Political parleys are going on. No one can say what will happen there. But Congress is very much hopeful to win over their support. On the other hand, Jayalalithaa, for consolidating her position in state politics, had given support to the communist leader D. Raja in Rajya Sabha election.
At this juncture, Mamata had no other option except to interact with leaders of different influential parties. Hence she had telephoned potential leaders of all regional parties including Jayalalithaa, mother of Jaganmohan Reddy, Nitish Kumar, and Navin Patnaik etc. But this total endeavour had drawn flak.
At the initial stage of her effort the total situation was different. Hence she had confided to her close circle that she had been in continuous touch with the mother of Jaganmohan Reddy over telephone and had regular interaction on the prospect of this front. Of late, Navin Patnaik had expressed his willingness to form a conglomeration of regional parties so that they could serve the interest of the regional states in a better way. The response from Mamata was positive. The leaders of regional parties of Jharkhand used to meet Mamata Banerjee at Writers’ Buildings whenever they come to Kolkata.
But the fact remains that the actual work of Third Front has not yet been clicked. Over confident Mamata said that non-Congress, non-Communist and non-Communal Federal Front is a must and no power on earth could stop it. But these sentimental outbursts have no ground truth whatsoever. Recently, when Narendra Modi had taken oath for the third consecutive time, he invited Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of UP and he sent his representative SP leader Sultan Ahmed to the said function. The other day (June 18, 2013), the supremo of RJD Lalu Prasad said that if Mamata Banerjee is there in any alliance she will definitely dissociate herself from that alliance within a very short time. Her track record is the best testimony for this. The Communists, with all their sincerity and organised effort, had tried to establish one non-Congress and non-BJP third front. But that was miserably failed. In fact, on the national level there cannot be alliance with either Congress or BJP. Any type of number game would fail if one of the two giants is there in any new coalition.