Elections and terror have become synonymous in West Bengal. Even the chief minister of the state, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has indirectly admitted this in the context of the forthcoming panchayat elections. The chief minister appealed to the cadre of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to allow opposition candidates to file their nomination papers without fear. This appeal-cum-admission followed a series of violent incidents involving CPI(M) workers who had prevented and intimidated anti-left candidates. In certain areas of Midnapore, there are no opposition candidates at all. This should not be interpreted to mean that there is no opposition to the left in these areas. On the contrary, widespread terror tactics by the CPI(M) have kept the opposing side at home. Democracy has thus been reduced to a caricature of itself. It is ironic that this should happen in the context of panchayat elections since the latter are aimed at inculcating the democratic ethos and institutions at the grassroots level. Yet the CPI(M) continues to flaunt the vibrancy of democracy in West Bengal under its aegis. The attitude of the party is revealed in the statement of Mr Anil Biswas, the secretary of the state unit. Mr Biswas swept aside all allegations and reports of terror and intimidation as baseless and propaganda induced by defeatism.
It would be an error to read the apparent concern of the chief minister and the nonchalance of the party secretary as a symptom of the CPI(M)’s left hand not knowing what its right hand is doing. Rather this is a cynical attempt to exploit the difference between the party and the government — a difference, it needs to be emphasized, which the CPI(M) blurs at the best of times. Mr Bhattacharjee is not only a loyal party member, he is also the chief minister of the state. As the chief minister, he has to speak for the people and not for the party. Mr Biswas has no such obligation. He can be, and he is, as partisan as partisan can be. This double act by Messrs Bhattacharjee and Biswas allows the government to appear fair; and yet it allows the desired message to filter down to the cadre. Mr Biswas’s nonchalance is the other side of a licence to intimidate and to be violent. One district-level leader from Midnapore, Mr Dipak Sarkar, has gone a step further than Mr Biswas. Mr Sarkar has had the temerity to suggest that opposition candidates should get in touch with him and he will ensure co-operation. In a democracy, there is no place for such patronage. Why should an opposition candidate go to Mr Sarkar for anything' This kind of swollen head is a direct outcome of Alimuddin Street’s high-handedness and its complete defiance of all democratic norms.