Trinamool sweeps blood-stained WB rural polls
Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)
Political violence has always accompanied elections in most states. West Bengal is no exception.
But this time, the violence during the just concluded panchayat polls could signal the weakness of the ruling Trinamool Congress.
As the Lok Sabha polls are approaching, this panchayat poll was highly significant for all the four major political parties -- the TMC, BJP, Congress and the CPI-M.
At least 18 people lost their lives in political violence in West Bengal on the polling day. It was a fallout of the attempt to capture the panchayats, the rural political power centres in the state. These 18 deaths on election day brought the total death toll during the entire election campaign, from the day of filing of nominations for the panchayat seats to the day of voting, to nearly 40.
The TMC has claimed that 11 of the 18 killed on the day of polling were its party workers or supporters.
But, as the results poured in, a happy Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in a Facebook post: "It's TMC all the way in rural Bengal. I want to thank the people for their love, affection and support towards the TMC. This election has proved that only TMC resides in the heart of the people of the state."
Indeed, the TMC swept the West Bengal panchayat elections, winning a majority in all three tiers of the rural local government.
The Opposition BJP finished a distant second. The saffron party accused the Trinamool of making "desperate attempts to loot votes" by preventing opposition observers from entering counting centres.
The BJP asserted it has improved its tally in the West Bengal panchayat polls from 2018 despite facing "brutal oppression" and claimed that signs are "ominous" for the ruling Trinamool Congress which will be "buried deep" in the coming elections.
Thanking the people of West Bengal and BJP workers for the performance, the principal opposition party in the state noted that it is way ahead of Congress, Left, and others put together.
There's no denying that the opposition has expanded its space far beyond the last rural polls in 2018. The resurgence story of the Left-Congress is remarkable. However this phenomenon also means that there will be a division of the anti-incumbency vote with BJP and that can work in favour of the TMC in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Interestingly, a minority-dominated new party, ISF, has also made inroads into TMC's hold over Muslim voters in pockets of south Bengal.
The polls, billed as a test of popularity for Trinamool president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, saw rampant violence.
The rampant poll-related violence and allegations of ballot box tampering prompted West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose to submit a report to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Bose also warned of stern action against those involved in the violence.
On her part, Chief Minister Banerjee said she is saddened at the loss of lives in "sporadic" incidents of violence during rural polls.
West Bengal has a long history of violent rural polls with 40 people killed in one single day of polling during the 2003 panchayat elections.
Allegations of vote tampering and violence by various parties this time prompted the SEC to order re-polling in 696 seats. Intervention by the Calcutta High Court had seen the deployment of central police forces on both voting and counting days.