Violent deaths since Wednesday night in far-flung corners of Bengal set the political mercury soaring as curtains came down on the campaign for the first phase of polling.
On Thursday morning, two corpses with throats slit were found at Methidanga, on the outskirts of Shantipur town, in Nadia district, around 96km from Calcutta. The BJP was quick to latch on to the twin murders to score political points, claiming one of the victims, identified as Pratap Burman (24), was its supporter. The second victim has been identified as Dipankar Biswas (35).
The BJP MP from Ranaghat (Shantipur is a part of the Ranaghat Lok Sabha seat), Jagannath Sarkar, who is the party’s nominee for the Shantipur Assembly seat, has called for a 12-hour bandh on Friday in the area.
A little over two years ago, the Trinamul MLA from Krishnahunj, Satyajit Biswas, was gunned down in the same district, during a Saraswati Puja event. The family members had initially denied any political links of the victim but later retracted their statement.
Both Trinamul and BJP blame each other for the escalation in violence. The Trinamul nominee and former MLA Ajoy De, claimed the BJP was trying to politicise Thursday’s murders.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 11 people were killed in Bengal and over 700 injured in politically-motivated clashes. Since the Lok Sabha polls, over 1,500 people have been killed in similar incidents.
On Wednesday, a local BJP leader’s body was found hanging in Cooch Behar’s Dinhata. It had led to widespread violence by BJP cadres in the North Bengal town. Closer home to Calcutta in South 24-Parganas Baruipur, Trinamul supporters clashed with the workers of the Sanyukta Morcha, the new front formed by the Congress, the ISF and the Left Front.
Local Trinamul leader Shyamsundar Chakraborty claimed a group of Morcha supporters had attacked their party workers when they were passing through Belegachhi area. “One of our workers later succumbed to injuries in hospital,” Chakraborty said.
The local CPM has claimed that three of its workers are missing since the clashes.
The recovery of the corpses were not directly linked to the spate of violence in other parts of the state but does raise questions whether the presence of the approximately 684 companies of central paramilitary forces was having any impact at all in the 30 seats that go to polls on Saturday in Purulia and parts of Bankura, Jhargram, West and East Midnapore.
Each of these districts has a history of political violence that had witnessed much bloodshed towards the end of the Left rule more than a decade ago. While chief minister Mamata Banerjee can rightly claim to have brought peace to the area, with the subjugation of the Maoists guerrillas, intra-party clashes are still a phenomenon.
The Election Commission of India’s decision to stagger polls to an unprecedented eight-phases this time bears testimony to the fact that neither the Left nor the Trinamul when in the seat of power had rightly assessed the damage their violent ways of dealing with political opponents was causing to the state. In 2011 and 2016, the Assembly polls were held in six-phases.
"The present situation in Bengal is similar to what it was in the early 70s. Anti-socials have been let loose and the administration is not taking any steps," said BJP leader Shamik Bhattacharya.
Instances of poll-related violence are not restricted to the prized catch of an Assembly or a Parliamentary seat. Violence has been an intrinsic part of Bengal elections from the three-tier panchayat level.
“Insurrection” and “annihilation” have been a part of Bengal’s political legacy, which can be traced to the revolutionary outfits and martyrs from the struggle for Independence. In post-Independent Bengal violence remained a part of the successive movements led by the Left parties against the Congress and the Naxalite movement.
It was expected that the circle of violence would come to an end once the Left was voted out and Mamata Banerjee, a personal victim of many a violent attack, would bring it to an end. However, the atrocities have continued.
Politicians of any hue believe more in muscle power than their own persona to draw the voters closer.
“In West Bengal Violence has got a structural form, first by the Left and later Trinamul Congress. Both of them have turned Bengal’s politics ugly,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, political analyst.