TOPIC –The onus of calm

“Deaths of voters point to ugly edge of Bengal campaign. All players must steer it back from brink.”

Hamidul Mian, Monirujjaman Mian and Noor Alam Mian were migrant workers who had returned to their native Cooch Behar to vote in the ongoing West Bengal Assembly elections. Along with Samiul Haq, an 18-year-old working in a cyber cafe, they were killed in the firing, allegedly by the CISF, at a polling station in Sitalkuchi as the fourth phase of voting was underway on April 10. Earlier in the day, in a separate incident, another first-time voter, Anand Barman, was killed as he queued up to vote. The tragic deaths of voters in the middle of the democratic exercise point to the increasingly ugly edge of the political campaign for a state in which violence has become a distressingly endemic feature. For days preceding the fourth phase — in fact, even before the elections began — the presence of central forces in the state had become a bone of contention between the BJP and Trinamool Congress. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly and loosely accused central forces — deployed by the Election Commission to ensure free, fair and peaceful voting — of acting as agents of the BJP and committing “atrocities” to help it capture power in Bengal. She asked people to “gherao” polling booths if they witnessed “wrongdoing”. Echoing his leader, state minister Rabindra Nath Ghosh exhorted voters on the eve of the fourth phase of polling to go to booths with “lathis” to prevent central forces from creating disturbance. The BJP, too, has not taken the high road. The CISF claims that it was forced to fire in self-defence. The West Bengal Chief Minister has a right to contest these claims, but she must do so in a manner that behoves the constitutional position she holds. She could have asked for an independent inquiry — instead, she has pronounced a verdict. The Bengal election is only halfway through and voters — migrants, the poor, the working class — are the ones who have had to pay with their lives for exercising their franchise. Both the TMC and BJP must keep in mind that ill-thought-out expressions of anger from a pulpit can have very real and grave consequences. CM Banerjee must recognise that her constant questioning of the intent and legitimacy of institutions, including the Election Commission, only serves to erode trust in the election process. In a state that is unfortunately no stranger to political violence, such rhetoric can often mean incitement to violence. The party-state put in place by the CPM has been kept intact by the TMC, and elements of it have been co-opted by the BJP. The hope with this election, as with many previous ones, is that this system will be replaced by a more peaceful, less belligerent order. So far, though, the words and actions of the political players appear to belie that hope.