Shadow in Bengal

Ahead of a crucial assembly poll, onus is on all parties to shun political violence.

With Bihar in its kitty, the BJP’s top brass is turning its attention to the next big electoral prize, West Bengal, which is scheduled to go to polls in less than six months. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief J P Nadda will reportedly visit the state at least once a month till the elections to mobilise cadres, who are currently engaged in a violent stand-off with Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers. The BJP has been on the rise in West Bengal — it won 18 seats and over 40 per cent votes in the 2019 general election — and its surge has sounded a warning for the ruling TMC. What’s worrying, however, is that the intensifying competition has often threatened to push the state to the edge, with murder and violence all too often used to settle scores — since June 1, at least two dozen political workers have been murdered and many grievously injured. The stakes are high, and leaders should be extremely careful about the message they send out to the workers at the grass roots.

This, of course, is not going to be easy in a climate in which there is increasing pressure on every office and official to take sides. On Thursday, Governor Jagdeep Dhankar posted a video on social media saying, “There is no sign of waning of political violence, political vendetta and political killings and I fear that the number of such deaths may go upto three digit numbers.” Ominous words, which all parties must heed, notwithstanding the fact that the Governor’s office, too, has invited accusations of politicisation. By all accounts, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has failed to end the political violence that has been a grim hallmark of Bengal politics since the 1970s. The Congress and the CPM have been seen to use violence to capture office and stay in power, and the TMC is said to have continued in the same vein. As the BJP hits the trail aggressively, sensing an opportunity in the anti-incumbency that may have built over Banerjee’s two terms in office, it seems keen on polarising voters around identity issues such as the CAA and NRC, more than questioning the government’s record on corruption and unemployment.

It’s disquieting that physical violence continues to be the leitmotif of politics in the state. This is a paribortan that has not happened. If it has tainted Banerjee’s record in office, she has no one else to blame.

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