Stop poll violence: Left, Congress, BJP all need order for Bengal panchayat election

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Stop poll violence: Left, Congress, BJP all demand law and order for Bengal panchayat election

Violence in the run up to panchayat polls in Bengal is resulting in rare opposition unity – with the Left, Congress and even BJP coming together to accuse the ruling Trinamool of orchestrating violence. Elections for the 42,000 panchayat seats are scheduled for May 1, 3 and 5 with today being the last date for filing nomination papers. The Left, Congress and BJP have all accused Trinamool of terrorising their candidates, specifically in a bid to prevent them from filing nominations. Opposition parties have therefore approached the courts, seeking relief from use of state might and political muscle to subvert the panchayat polls.

Bengal, unfortunately, has a long and benighted history of political violence and Trinamool has ushered in little poriborton or change in this regard. True, BJP which is looking to make political inroads in Bengal has been resorting to aggressive tactics too. From taking out provocative Ram Navami processions to engaging in pitched battles with police at various places, BJP’s mantra seems to be to fight fire with fire. That said, law and order is a state subject and it is the Mamata government’s duty to ensure peaceful polls in Bengal.

There’s a deeper structural issue here as well. Given Bengal’s lacklustre economic situation with few formal jobs, party work has become a ‘job’ avenue for otherwise jobless youths. And since Trinamool commands the levers of state power, it effectively has a youth army practising extortion and strong arm tactics at its disposal even as police departments are heavily politicised. This used to be the state of affairs under Left Front rule too, and it’s unfortunate that little has changed in this regard under Trinamool.

As far as the panchayat polls are concerned, chief minister Mamata Banerjee should heed the concerted demand of the Left, Congress and BJP – for deployment of central forces to curb election violence. The last date to file nomination papers should be extended to ensure free and fair nominations. These developments also illustrate how a grand opposition coalition for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is an uphill project. At a time when Mamata is trying to play a bigger role on the national stage and is busy forging opposition unity against the BJP led government at the Centre, it hardly makes sense for Trinamool to alienate potential allies in Bengal.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

Times of India’s Edit Page team comprises senior journalists with wide-ranging interests who debate and opine on the news and issues of the day.

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