When West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose visited violence-hit areas ahead of the state Panchayat polls, he spoke about the politics of “murder”, “intimidation” and “muscle flexing”. “My visit to the field has convinced me that there is violence in certain pockets of West Bengal. There is a manifestation of what is called the politics of murder, the politics of intimidation, the politics of muscle flexing,” he said.
In the run up to the Panchayat elections, more and more people have called it a hoax. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress not only alleged that fake ballot papers were being printed by the state, and concerned officials terrorised by the State Police, he also wanted the election to be conducted under the surveillance of police and officials of other states. Chowdhury’s concern remains that the State Police would change the ballot boxes of Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad elections while being transported to strong rooms. Such apparently unsustainable allegation has to be viewed from the perspective of certain TMC leaders’ threatening statements. Kajal Sheikh of Birbhum said, “We would ensure that opposition parties can’t place their agents in our booths”— hinting at a freedom to manipulate without the opposition’s resistance. This is perhaps the reason why the main opposition party BJP’s booth-level karyakartas were eliminated earlier this year. TMC doesn’t want any other party at the booth level. If an opposition-free atmosphere can be ensured at the booth level, Adhir Chowdhury’s allegation doesn’t look impossible any more.
In the Panchayat Election 2023, numerous allegations had already been raised against BDO (Block Development Officers) and SDPOs (Sub Divisional Police Officers) that they have favoured ruling party candidates in filing nominations while remaining defunct as violence broke out against opposition candidates. Numerous police officers are already accused of threatening opposition candidates for withdrawing nominations and beating BJP candidates in different places. The Calcutta High Court too had ordered to register FIRs against two officers, one IC (Inspector In-charge) and one SDPO of Canning, South 24 Parganas. The State Government immediately challenged the Single Bench order in the Division Bench of Calcutta High Court. The promptness exhibited by the state government fairly indicates how important it is for Mamata Banerjee’s party to protect state officials.
“Though it may not be right for a court to predict any violence during the ensuing elections, the applicant’s apprehension cannot be brushed aside, given the past experience. We are only concerned with protection of the public at large and if such violence takes place, it would affect the public. There are chances of post poll violence in victory processions of winning candidates, etc. Therefore, let the Central
forces be deployed for 10 more days after the declaration of results”
— Order passed by a division-bench of Calcutta High Court, on July 6 while hearing contempt applications filed by BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, among several others, against the West Bengal State Election Commission for its laxity in holistically implementing the orders of the Court on several aspects such as deployment of forces, etc.
BJP leader Shishir Bajoria wrote to the State Election Commission on July 6, asking for the removal of the state police chief for his statements on the deaths in the Bengal pre-poll violence. As per the letter, the Bengal Director General (DG) of Police Manoj Malaviya said, “In my opinion, it is unfair for the media to portray small incidents in Bengal as if they are indicative of the overall situation. Just because two or three incidents of extreme violence have occurred, it does not mean that Bengal is completely out of control.” Referring to the death of a BJP worker, Dilip Mahara, who was reportedly murdered by TMC goons, Bajoria said the head of the state police called the death of 17 people in pre-poll violence a “small incident”.
Bajoria also alleged that the state police were working for the ruling TMC, calling it a “complete partisan force” and also pointed out that there is no trust and faith in the Bengal Police “at an operative level”.
Election Duty on Contract!
The State Election Commission didn’t want the Central Forces deployed within the booths. The Commission tried every possible way in the Calcutta High Court to prevent it. Why didn’t they want any outsider to witness the poll process? The answer to this question is critical.
From the antecedents of West Bengal under TMC, it can be safely stated that no booth would perhaps have CCTV surveillance infrastructure. Even if some booths have them, power cut may be expected during the poll procedure turning the CCTV set-up defunct. Someone should go check the CCTV footage of the polling booths once the voting is over.
There are allegations that the state uses contractual employees to preside and poll officers in numerous places. The Calcutta High Court has strictly ordered that contractual employees cannot be used as the presiding officer or as the first, second, third or fourth polling officers in election duty. Sanmoy Banerjee, a YouTuber, has collected several documents of forgeries by District Magistrates and published some of them on his YouTube channel Banglar Barta.
DM of East Medinipur, Purnendu Majhi, sent a letter to a number of contractual employees instructing them to attend the office on July 7. In the letter, it has also been mentioned that such contractual employees would be used in the poll duty as the 5th polling officer (abiding by High Court order); however, if the presiding officer remained absent for some unavoidable circumstances, he or she might have to conduct the duty of the presiding officer. Does the High Court order allow the possibility of contractual employees to be presiding officers in case of ‘unavoidable circumstances’? And such contractual staff has been provided with due training for the duty of presiding and polling officers, despite the High Court order.
Though the TMC badly lost elections in all other States wherever they contested, such administrative wrongdoings by the state administrative machinery are the secrets of the party’s repeated electoral success in West Bengal.
The DMs’ acts of allotting election duty of presiding officers and polling officers to contractual employees had been challenged in the Calcutta High Court. The advocate of the state government had pleaded that in a handful of places, such deviations of court order might have happened by mistake, which would be rectified but such cases would surely be very few in number. Contrary to such claim of the State Government Counsel Kishore Dutta, the petitioners are prepared with innumerable letters issued by the DMs allotting presiding and polling officer’s duty to contractual staff.
Would contractual employees be in a position to oppose if electoral manipulations are carried out under the surveillance of state officials and State Police? This is perhaps the concern behind the demand of Congress’s Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury when he sought elections under the surveillance of officials from other states. The acute trust deficit in the state administration has created a unique case which requires a unique solution. From the overall look of the state of affairs, it appears that conclusive democratic defeat of TMC might not be possible in the presence of the present administration unless some unique solution is offered to the situation of West Bengal.
Scientific Rigging Vs Administrative Rigging
Similar manipulations were alleged after the result of West Bengal Assembly Election 2021 was declared. It was around 12.30 pm on May 2 when Kailash Vijayvargiya, in front of the press, admitted the defeat of the BJP in the West Bengal Assembly Election 2021. BJP supporters were dejected as they wanted a recounting of votes.
Noting down EVM numbers and reporting them to the ECI observer are done by State Government officials. In that, too, the State Government used contractual staff called Election Officers. While noting down EVM figures hearing from individual EVM counting personnel, they allegedly changed the figures of casted votes for different parties. This had been a suspected manipulation mechanism in Assembly Election 2021 in West Bengal, which had been widely discussed in the public domain, including social media.
“In booth number seven of Jhargram Assembly Constituency, BJP’s Sukhamoy Sathpathy (Jahar) received only six votes while in that booth the candidate’s acquaintances and their family members put together had 30 votes, which were assured for Jahar Da. Hence, it was impossible that in Nayagram Primary School booth, Sukhomoy Sathpathy would get six votes,” said a friend of Sathpathy.
TMC sloganeered Khela Hobe. Was this Khela the game of manipulations? Mamata Banerjee termed Marxists’ poll manipulation practices ‘scientific rigging’. Can the poll manipulation mechanism during her tenure be called ‘administrative rigging’? Marxist malpractices culminated in Mamata-ism in West Bengal, which is a complete denial of the very spirit of the Constitution of India.