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Bengal Violence: Why ‘Politics of Criminality’ Will Hurt Mamata

Shuma Raha
·5-min read

It was not unexpected, but one had hoped that Mamata Banerjee’s spectacular landslide victory in the West Bengal elections would act as a bulwark against any political violence in its aftermath.

That hope has been belied. There were reports of widespread violence soon after the results were announced. Clashes have broken out between workers of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its principal opponent, the BJP.

At least 11 people have been killed, including six from the BJP and five from the TMC, and houses and property vandalised and torched. Mamata, who will be sworn in as chief minister for a third term on Wednesday, has appealed for “calm”.

Why Maintaining Peace Is Doubly Crucial for Mamata This Time

Mamata needs to do much more than that. As the leader of the party which will govern Bengal yet again, it is of course her duty to ensure that her cadre do not indulge in violence or vengeance or wanton thuggery — even if there is provocation from rival party workers. But maintaining peace in the wake of the election results is doubly crucial this time. Mamata’s resounding victory over the BJP has acquired a kind of moral force. The ruling party at the Centre had done its utmost to polarise the state with its money, muscle power and divisive Hindutva rhetoric.

Hence, the TMC’s win is exhilarating not only because of the 213 Assembly seats it captured and the absolute majority it notched up, but also because it signifies an emphatic repudiation of the BJP’s toxic brand of politics.

It is exhilarating because it shows that the people of Bengal had more faith in a secular political party than in the airy blandishments of a party which depends on the religious polarisation of the country and the subversion of its institutions, for its continued survival and success. However, the post-poll violence that we have seen in Bengal knocks a fair bit of that moral sheen off Mamata’s victory. Allowing her party rank and file to go on a rampage and engage in pitched battles with opponents suggests that at best, Mamata is not in control, and at worst, that she is an enabler of bloody political strife.

Besides, it gives the BJP the opportunity to once again ratchet up the refrain about her misrule — which was the primary ballast of its high-octane election campaign in the state.

Also Read: Is Mamata Banerjee’s Victory a Turning Point in Indian Politics?

Bengal’s Long History of Political Violence

Not surprisingly, the home ministry has sought a report on the violence; Bengal Governor, Jagdish Dhankar, is once again feeling buoyed enough to fish in troubled waters, and is summoning senior officials to demand explanations; and the BJP has declared a nationwide agitation against the violence on Wednesday, 5 May. (The small matter of a raging pandemic has never let the ruling party stop itself from holding mass gatherings.)

To be sure, Bengal has a long history of election-related savagery. It became par for the course under the CPI(M), which ruled Bengal for 34 years. And the TMC, which inherited power — and a lot of its manpower — from the CPI(M), has actively perpetuated that tradition.

Take the 2018 panchayat elections in the state, for instance. It unleashed a blood bath — as many as 29 people were killed. Tellingly, in 34 percent of the seats, TMC candidates were elected unopposed.

Terrorised would-be candidates from other parties simply did not dare contest. When the BJP won 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in 2019 — up from 2 seats in the 2014 general elections — its staggering electoral stride in the state was attributed primarily to the people’s anger over the unchecked predations of the brutal and corrupt elements in. the TMC.

Also Read: Bengal Post-Poll Violence: Deaths, Misinformation & Politics

Why Post-Poll Violence Diminishes Mamata’s Victory & Image

There was a sense that Mamata was failing to rein in or root out the bad apples in her party, with the result that the BJP was increasingly being seen as an alternative to her and the TMC. This, essentially, was the basis for the BJP’s sky-high confidence as it went into the long drawn out (and Election Commission-aided) Assembly elections in Bengal this time. Yet, the tables have been turned.

It is Mamata who has pulled off a stunning victory and halted the BJP’s seemingly unstoppable electoral blitzkrieg.

She is now being hailed as the tallest Opposition leader — a three-time chief minister who has shown that it is possible to defeat the BJP even if it comes at you with the mammoth resources at its disposal. She is, in short, being seen as a potential leader of the opposition at the national level.

The post-poll violence in Bengal diminishes that image and that potential. If Mamata gives a free pass to violence — and corruption — once again, she will see the moral authority that she has gained by defeating the BJP ebb away.

She will see the vote of confidence that she has received from the people of Bengal for the third time curdle in a blast of public anger and discontent. For the sake of the state, and for the sake of the nation, Mamata needs to step up and clamp down on the killings and the misrule. The politics of criminality and corruption cannot be an alternative to the politics of hate.

(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. She tweets @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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