As soon as polling ended in West Bengal, area domination by political parties and intimidation of party workers resurfaced across an already politically charged state.
While the most serious among cases were reported in the Bhatpara assembly constituency, where by-polls were held recently, numerous incidents of partisan violence are being alleged by nearly all major political parties in several other parts of the state as well.
The Congress, with whom the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) is in talks for a possible anti-BJP front at the centre, alleged that its workers were being threatened and beaten up in constituencies like Murshidabad, Basirhat, Malda and Cooch Behar.
Congress leaders state that although the party may not be able to win certain constituencies, it was successful in wooing a large chunk of Muslim voters, particularly in the community-dominated border areas of the state.
“The TMC is thinking that had we (Congress) not been contesting in constituencies like Basirhat, Malda and others, it would have got all the anti-BJP votes. S0 they (TMC) are trying to frighten our workers into submission. But we will not let that happen,” Mannan said.
On the other hand, he believes that owing to the Congress’ pull, the BJP wasn’t able to tap the voters entirely in Hindu dominated areas where anti-incumbency has become a strong factor. This had Congress workers coming under fire from BJP too, Mannan added.
During the polls, it is estimated that four people died in direct poll related violence while a total of 12 people perished during the poll season.
Political observer Biswanath Chakraborty noted that poll and post-poll violence in West Bengal is a “permanent structural notion in this state, embedded in the political leadership, irrespective of colours”.
“It is not just a matter of area domination; but anticipating a win, political leaders tend to believe that since they or their party is the dominant force, the weaker ones (political parties who lost) should bow to them”, Chakraborty said.
He said that while post-poll violence was momentous in 1972 and 1977, it started gaining strategic importance 1982 onwards under the then Left Front regime, which used brutality in pockets to gain political edge.
“But such violence reached a level of excess under the TMC regime which gave it a permanent structure and made it widespread,” Chakraborty opined.
The BJP believes it will wrest the Bhatpara seat in the Assembly by-elections from the TMC after local strongman Arjun Singh defected from Mamata's party to join the saffron outfit.
On the poll date, numerous instances of rigging, voter intimidation and threatening of party workers were alleged by both the TMC and the BJP. The political tension spilled over to the Assembly by-polls, eventually leading to imposition of Section 144 in this area, which remains tense even now.
By-polls in Bhatpara, within the Barrackpore constituency, were held after Singh, a four-time member of the state’s Assembly switched over to the BJP from the TMC, resulting in this seat becoming vacant.
While his son contested from this seat, the TMC brought in former state’s transport minister, Madan Mitra, who previously had been pulled up by the CBI over his alleged involvement in the Saradha chit fund scam, to contest from here.
While Mitra alleged that he was being prevented by the BJP from entering the area and accused the saffron party of bringing in outsiders to foment trouble, the BJP, in turn accused the TMC of creating trouble.
“We have met the governor and informed him about the post-poll violence going on in this state. If such violence goes on, the centre should intervene to control the situation and the Army should be brought in to take charge of Bhatpara,” BJP’s state president, Dilip Ghosh said.
He said that if attacked, BJP workers would give a befitting reply.
The BJP has also accused the TMC of spurring violence in Cooch Behar, Kolkata North and South, Diamond Harbour and other constituencies.
“Such is the situation that our workers and supporters are asking for protection. TMC workers are threatening to kill them and they and their family members, and in fear, they cannot go out of the house,” BJP’s state vice president, Chandra Kumar Bose alleged.
Bose claimed that during 2018-19, the BJP has suffered a total of 120 political casualties.
“I believe there will be widespread violence against the BJP once the poll results are declared,” he said.
On Wednesday, bombs were allegedly recovered from the house of an alleged TMC worker in Medinipore while the TMC alleged the BJP thrashed its leader in Salboni in this same constituency.
“It becomes important for political parties to maintain their strongholds and enter new territories to gain ground. Also the Assembly elections are slated for 2021, and area domination becomes important for that election”, political observer, Sabyasachi Basu Chowdhury said.
Such observers believe that preventive arrests of politically funded goons throughout the poll season could have prevented an escalated situation of post-poll violence.