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West Bengal: “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home”

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must always remember that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”

 Edward R. Murrow, in Good Night and Good Luck.

The lines resonate with the situation of West Bengal today. Ever since the assembly election results were announced and Mamata Banerjee took over the reins of West Bengal for the third time in a landslide victory, the state is under immense politically charged turmoil. Just a day after the result of the intensely contested state assembly poll declared, reports of violence gripping West Bengal surfaced.

The Union Home Ministry has asked for a report from the Bengal government on the incidents of attacks on opposition party workers after multiple reports hinted at post-poll violence and torching from various parts of West Bengal.

According to BJP general secretary, Kailash Vijayvargiya, four of its workers were killed and over 4,000 houses ransacked in incidents of post-poll violence in the state. The party workers were allegedly killed in a clash that broke out between the TMC and the BJP in West Bengal’s Purba Bardhaman district after the election results were announced.

There were several reports of violence from multiple parts of the state.

The situation in Bengal is nothing less than mayhem. The state is spewing hatred and violence post-election. Except for the ruling part of the state, supporters of every party are being searched and killed across the state, houses are being vandalised and women are being assaulted, all in front of the newly elected government. The question which arises here is,  is there no room for the sustenance of other political ideology? Is Bengal paying the price of a strong presence of other political ideologies?

The BJP on Sunday alleged that one of its party offices in Hooghly district was set on fire and some of its leaders, including Suvendu Adhikari, were harassed by TMC activists in other parts of the state after the poll results showed that Mamata Banerjee camp was set to retain power in Bengal.

Meanwhile, the Left alliance, which banked a zero in the polls, also accused the TMC workers of post-poll violence in the state, calling the attacks “condemnable”.

“Are these reports of gruesome violence in Bengal TMC’s ‘victory celebrations’? Condemnable. Will be resisted and rebuffed. Instead of focusing on combating the pandemic, TMC unleashes such mayhem. CPI(M), as always, will be with the people to protect, assist, providing relief,” tweeted Sitaram Yechury.

The state seems to have shut doors of dissent after its historic win. The arsoning of the state is nothing but a ‘power show’ to reinstate fear amongst the other political spectrum. Bengal burns as the angry party workers furiously setting scores while the police stand as mere spectators. As didi is set to form the government in the state and take an oath, law and order went for a toss.

Political violence has always been an underlying factor in West Bengal for decades now; during the Left rule, then Trinamool’s terms in power and the recent BJP-versus-Mamata campaign. Less than democracy, West Bengal often witnesses dictatorship, and the latest ‘BJP versus Mamata’ has reaffirmed the popular notion.

The killings of the party workers cannot be justified in any manner. But BJP calling for National Dharna on 5 May is oxymoronic. A party which has curbed dissent in every form and manner relying on dharna seems more like a show than concern.

“The BJP has announced a nationwide dharna on 5th May against the widespread violence unleashed by TMC workers post the election results in West Bengal. This protest will be held following all Covid protocols across all organisational mandals of the BJP,” the saffron party tweeted.

BJP calling for a nationwide protest in times when coronavirus is at its peak and more than 3 lakh cases are reported every day, the move seems more like a desperate attempt to turn eyeballs. It was just a month ago that Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed to the farmers protesting at Delhi borders to call off their long-running agitation amid a surge in covid cases.

Furthermore, what about the party workers and how their families would be taken care of.

The party workers form a strong backing team of the political party during the election campaigning,  mobilising people and spreading messages. But it seems they are taken care of just till the election as no word of their loss finds its way to Twitter.

 Irrespective of the political parties, party workers are pawned in a big political gambit. 

The law and order today has been snatched from the police and handed over to the ‘mob.’ Now, the mob settling the scores of the political behemoths has become a modus operandi, be it in states or at the centre. If you don’t align with the rules of the political ideologies, there is always a ‘mob’ ready to take care of you. And The political parties at their comfort dismiss the ground realities. It has now become a standard synopsis of the evolving parties. The one who is lost in this misty haze is a charged party worker or supporter conveniently sacrificed in the political pyre. 

Furthermore, it seems Mamata Banerjee has some other obligatory post-election celebration after the Election Commission banned the victory celebration amid the surge in covid cases. 

According to an NDTV report, Derek O’Brien, Trinamool party leader in the Rajya Sabha dismissed questions on why violence has been triggered against BJP workers after one of the most toxic election battles in India’s history. “People who are blaming us don’t know Bengal at all. Let me tell you, there are three very aggressive factions of the BJP and they are attacking each other. One is the original BJP led by Dilip Ghosh, two is what is called “Five-BJP” led by Mukul Roy, Trinamool defector and his supporters who joined the BJP five years ago, and the third what is called “Tatkal (instant) BJP” led by Suvendu Adhikari and his workers. They are all fighting with each other, with factions trying to take control of the BJP. That is why JP Nadda is coming to Kolkata to broker peace between the three BJP groups”. 

On Social Media also, O’Brien claimed that this is an intra-BJP fight because top leaders who he calls “MoSha” had come and spread hatred in West Bengal during the campaign. The Trinamool also claims that the BJP has triggered a massive disinformation campaign to create communal unrest.

Meanwhile, there is another drive run by the BJP on social media demanding to enforce President’s Rule in Bengal and rejects the Trinamool version of events

Irrespective of who is saying what, Mamata Banerjee led TMC seems to think they are invincible. Mamata Banerjee who chanted against the ‘ Muscle power’ and ‘money power’ during her campaigning is now unable to retract her party workers’ display of muscle power. 

Dark times like these in democracy should be eye-openers for citizens. A point in time where each one of us should collectively introspect about the state of political affairs and our role in it. We underestimate our powers as citizens and bestow our so-called leaders with unyielding ‘ powers’ which puts them on a pedestal of dictatorship.

Democracy is a liberating concept, but today instead of liberation we see democracy in its darkest hues. In times like these, the notion of ‘change in government’ finds its relevance. It exhibits how the aforementioned notion will hold each one of them accountable for their actions and responsibility towards the citizens. It will reinstate the fact that they are public servants and not their rulers because nobody is above and mightier than the public. 

An environment of holding the elected leaders should be formulated. Our primary responsibility entails a demand for change in government, be it in any state and at the centre but what is even more important is an ecosystem of constant checks and balance.

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