July 2: The leading Opposition parties today confronted the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government on the bloodshed and alleged CPM “terror tactic” in the May panchayat election, both in the Assembly and outside.
The Congress, taking advantage of the absence of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, which is boycotting the Assembly, tried to grab attention by staging a walkout on the issue.
The move was clearly aimed at trying to hijack the issue and allowing Trinamul little space to make capital of the poll violence, in which 30 people were killed.
Outside the Assembly, Trinamul tried to milk the visit of the NDA team to ascertain the veracity of Mamata’s complaints of the CPM’s “terror tactic”. However, Trinamul’s heart sank when the team, winding up the two-day visit, said it was not in a position to recommend imposition of Article 356 or central intervention.
“Our job is only to report the facts relating to the malpractices adopted by the ruling party in elections to NDA convener George Fernandes and not suggest any action. Any action that may be taken will be decided by the coordination committee of the NDA which is chaired by the Prime Minister. However, we find truth in Mamata Banerjee’s complaints,” said Kirit Somaiya, BJP MP and team leader, at Calcutta airport.
Somaiya’s observation came as a disappointment to Mamata, who has been clamouring for President’s rule in Bengal or a firm central intervention to counter the CPM’s “reign of terror” unleashed on the Opposition.
Somaiya, accompanied by Chandrakant Khaire of the Shiv Sena and Beatrix D’Souza of the Samata Party, visited, among other places, Ranaghat, Chakdah, Sarhati and Thakurnagar in Nadia and North 24-Parganas today and spoke to many people, mainly Trinamul-BJP combine candidates. Yesterday the team had visited places in East Midnapore.
“We have found during our visit that there has been a mockery of the political system in Bengal. We thought the communists are for the downtrodden people but our experience is different. Women belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes who contested the rural polls are being threatened and are facing virtual economic and social boycott,” he said.
The team visited 14 places in all and spoke to 112 persons. It received over a hundred written representations.
“They told us not to ask too many questions because they feared attacks by the ruling party. In a gram panchayat, we found a majority of 14 members elected from the Trinamul-BJP combine not being allowed to function,” said Somaiya.
The NDA’s fact-finding delegation also expressed concern over more than 6,000 seats going uncontested in the rural polls. “Compared to the previous panchayat election in 1998, this figure is too high and the state election commission should explain. We are concerned about the manner in which electoral democracy is being crushed in Bengal,” said the team leader.
At Dubra gram panchayat in Nadia, chaos reigned as the people who wanted to meet the team members refused to wait for their turn. All of them, mostly Trinamul supporters, crammed into a small room to narrate their tales of “woe” with party MLA Partha Chatterjee acting as the translator.
Soon, local Trinamul functionaries who were trying to keep the media away got into a spat with the reporters. At this point, Somaiya asked the organisers to speed up the meeting, but his voice was drowned in the cacophony.
Sensing that the situation was getting out of hand, he asked the district Trinamul president to make a speech and wind up proceedings. The team soon left for the airport.