Kolkata, June 23 (IANS) With its polity long woven around violent control of territory and and bitter political rivalry, the upcoming rural polls are adding more chapters of violence in West Bengal.
While police say three people have been victims of political killings, which have left over 100 injured in the past couple of months, opposition parties claim the actual figures are on the higher side.
Even before the panchayat polls were notified and the legal battle between the Mamata Banerjee regime and the State Election Commission (SEC) over deployment of central security forces for the polls raged, reports of widespread violence flew thick and fast as political parties blamed one another for the bloodshed.
As soon as the dates were notified - July 2, 6 and 9 - the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front and the Congress accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of using muscle power to prevent rival candidates from filing poll nominations.
"Nearly a dozen of our partymen have been killed in the last few months and over 10,000 injured. Trinamool goons have not even spared the families of our candidates, who have been abducted, molested or attacked to force our candidates to withdraw nominations," CPI-M state secretariat member Robin Deb told IANS.
The Congress says over 1,000 party activists have suffered at the hands of the Trinamool.
"For the past few months, our leaders and workers have been constantly under attack. Over 1,000 of our cadres have been injured or abducted or threatened and forced to withdraw their nominations. The worst affected districts are East and West Midnapore, Hooghly, South 24 Parganas and Bankura. In Cooch Behar, a Congress leader was killed Friday," Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra told IANS.
While the opposition is pointing fingers at the Trinammol, the ruling party apparently is only carrying forward the legacy it inherited from past regimes.
The Congress government in the 1970s drew flak for the alleged brutal crackdown on the Maoist (Naxalite) movement, while CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose alleged that 1,200 of its workers were killed and 20,000 rendered homeless "due to semi-fascist terror".
The subsequent 34 years of Marxist rule witnessed several massacres, including police firings in Kolkata in 1993, which claimed 13 lives. Fourteen years later, police shot dead 14 people in Nandigram.
Nine more people were killed in the Netai carnage in 2011, allegedly by CPI-M backed goons. But the most gruesome was the 1982 killing and burning of 16 monks and a nun of the Ananda Marg.
Ironically, as an opposition leader, Banerjee had fought the "oppressive and violent" ways of the Left. She is now being accused of the same offence.
"Criminalisation of politics is a bane which has plagued Bengal for long. No matter which party is in power, use of muscle power to gain territorial dominance and forcibly neutralise rivals and opponents has always found prominence in the political agenda here," political analyst and Burdwan University professor Abhijit Ghosh told IANS.
Trinamool parliamentarian Saugata Roy, however, differed.
"It is a completely wrong assumption that West Bengal is politically volatile or that it tops in cases of political violence. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, poll-related violence, including killings, is far more," said Roy.
"In the past two-three months, three people have been killed and over 100 injured in political clashes across the state. We are working closely with the SEC and taking intensive precautionary measures to preserve law and order. Along with police pickets at strategic locations we are also conducting intensive patrolling in sensitive areas," Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Banibrata Basu said.
While the poll-related attacks, including the murder of a Marxist leader, continued, the poll panel came out with a startling revelation: around 15 per cent of the seats in the first phase would go to the Trinamool uncontested.
Stating that the current polls have the highest number of uncontested seats, SEC secretary Tapas Roy had said it was a "matter of concern".
While the Trinamool attributed the Left's and the Congress' erosion of support base for the lopsided contest, the opposition and the BJP dubbed the polls a "fracas and sham" owing to the violent and coercive tactics of the ruling party.
Even as the election panel and the state government continue to spar over security measures putting question marks over the conduct of the polls, the legacy of bloodied politics continues in the state.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)