Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Time to Rise to Save Democracy in West Bengal

By Hannan Mollah

THE Trinamul Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal, led by Ms Mamata Banerjee, has during its two years rule did its best to ensure that democracy is demolished at all levels --- in government, politics, society and culture.

Nor is there any democracy in her party; she is an out and out autocrat of intemperate, intolerant and fascistic nature. She does not allow any minister of her government to take a decision, small or big, without her consent. There is no elected office-bearer in her party at any level. She is the sole authority of her party and runs it as her private limited company.

The same thing is reflected in her governance. She is totally against the opposition parties and never calls them for a meeting. While the Left parties are an anathema to her; even her old partners, the Congress and SUCI, are never consulted. She does not attend the assembly and is not ready to face a question there. To her, the opposition only conspires against her. She or any of her ministers do not call any opposition MLA or MP when they visit a constituency. She never invites an opposition legislator for inauguration of a project in his constituency. She behaved the same way when she was the railway minister. In the last two years, her government never called a meeting of the chairpersons of 14 opposition controlled zilla parishads. Her ministers do not attend any meeting called by a district, subdivision or block level authority if those meetings are to be attended by opposition parties.

This same behaviour was noticed when the TMC was in opposition. Its MLAs were instructed to boycott any government meeting. She refused to attend any meetings even though the then chief minister wrote to her seven times. Can a democracy function in this situation?

As for physical attacks on the opposition, she came to power with the slogan “Badla noy, badal chai” (not revenge but change is needed). But the last two years rule is nothing but a rule of revenge. More than 100 CPI(M) cadres were killed before and another 24 during the panchayat elections. Immediately after she came to power, CPI(M) and other Left parties came under attack. More than 800 offices of these parties, trade unions, kisan, student, youth and women organisations were attacked, burnt, looted, destroyed or captured. On the plea of an incident at Planning Commission office in Delhi, TMC goons attacked and destroyed 1400 plus offices of the CPI(M) and mass organisations. Thousands of its leaders and activists were attacked, and their houses were attacked, destroyed or looted. More than 5,000 of the CPI(M) cadres were driven out of their houses; women were assaulted or raped. Even the aged and children were not spared. Thousands of bargadars whom the Left Front government allotted land and right of cultivation, were evicted from their land.

Another problem is that about 10,000 of cadres were implicated in false cases. While TMC goons attack opposition cadres, the police arrest the victims themselves and implicate them in false, non-bailable cases; the goons freely move and threaten their supporters. Ms Banerjee herself makes provocative speeches against the Left, encouraging the goons to attack the CPI(M). TMC leaders publicly said they would kill the CPI(M) the way one kills a poisonous snake. They instruct their party people not to speak with CPI(M) people, not to go to a tea shop with them, not to attend any marriage or other functions with them and not to establish any marital relations with CPI(M) supporting families. Thus they are destroying social harmony, dividing the common people in villages and towns, creating hatred among them. This may create a permanent cleavage in society and damage the social fabric.

These attacks intensified before and during the panchayat polls. As Ms Banerjee and her party are out to destroy democracy, deny opposition its rights, generate hatred on political lines, damage the social fabric and even instigate communal feelings, they are out to destroy the constitutional institutions and functioning too. While parliamentary democracy cannot function without an opposition, she is not ready to allow the latter to function freely. Opposition parties are not being allowed to hold meetings, not given permission for meetings, and not allotted grounds and parks.

The media are called “the fourth estate” in a democracy. But they are under severe attack. Only such newspapers or TV channels as support Ms Banerjee are allowed to work freely. Only pro-government newspapers are kept in libraries and government offices. Ms Banerjee herself advised people to read the papers or view the TV channels which she prescribes. Newspapers critical to government are being attacked; more than a dozen of journalists, reporters or photographers were attacked and their cameras destroyed. If journalists ask Ms Mamata a difficult question, she immediately dubs them as CPI(M) or Maoist fellows and asks them to leave her press conference. Daily Ganashakti is not subscribed to by a library; she has stopped any advertisements to Ganashakti even though the High Court has asked her to resume it. Even hawkers of newspapers to her dislike were not allowed to go to people, while hundreds of Ganashakti boards were destroyed. Thus the government of West Bengal is trying to gag the opposition opinion and suppress the freedom of media.

Some incidents may be recalled here. Once a professor forwarded on internet a cartoon on Ms Mamata and he was instantly arrested; the case against him is not yet withdrawn. One TMC supporter asked Ms Banerjee in a public meeting about scarcity of fertilisers; she immediately branded him as a Maoist and asked the police to arrest him; the case is not yet withdrawn. In both cases, the National Human Rights Commission flayed the government’s stand and asked for compensation to the sufferers. But the government refused to accept it. One girl asking Ms Mamata a question in a TV show was also branded Maoist and Ms Mamata quit the show. The last two years saw hundreds of such incidents of Ms Banerjee’s intolerance.

Another area of concern is the unprecedented growth in incidents of assault against women in Bengal since Ms Mamata assumed office. In the notorious case of gangrape in Park Street, she immediately said it was a stage managed show. But when the case proved to be true, the inquiring police officer was transferred. After a series of other rape cases, a TMC activist recently raped and killed a college girl in Kamduni village in Barasat, North 24 Paraganas district. But Ms Banerjee visited the place only after ten days of the incident and when some women wanted to talk to her about it, she termed them all as CPI(M) cadres and Maoists. More than a dozen rapes have occurred in Barasat alone. (In that panchayat, the TMC won all the seats uncontested as no opposition candidate was allowed to file nomination.) The National Commission for Women and the National Crime Bureau have reported that West Bengal now ranks highest in number of rapes. While Kolkata was once a safe haven for women, now it is rape capital under Ms Mamata. Of course, to her mind, these are stage managed cases, and a conspiracy to defame her government.

In West Bengal, peasants were in a better position due to land reforms under the Left Front government. They also got government assistance and their crops were purchased by a government agency at proper prices. Not a single peasant committed suicide during the 34 years of Left Front rule. But peasants are in great distress now, and so far 87 have committed suicide. But Ms Mamata says this too is a false propaganda against her government and no farmers committed suicide in her regime.

Constitutional authorities too are under attack. The Human Rights Commission listed dozens of cases of the government violating the human rights of the people. But most of the cases were not heeded to. Ms Mamata has showed total disregard for this commission.

Similarly, the Kolkata High Court made several remarks against the government for violation of the people’s democratic rights. But the government disregarded many court orders. After the Supreme Court ordered deployment of central forces for panchayat elections, her government used them mostly for patrolling on roads and not to protect voters from TMC goons.

The disregard shown to the State Election Commission about the panchayat elections is well known. Her government attacked the commission and the commissioner. Ms Banerjee said the commissioner had got extension under the Left Front rule and was therefore working against the TMC government. All her ministers abused this lady, used filthy languages against her, threatened her and tried to throttle her attempts to conduct elections properly.

Earlier, the Left Front government established a vibrant panchayati raj in West Bengal. It was regarded as an ideal decentralised democratic setup and followed in the whole country through the 73rd constitution amendment. The Left Front government conducted seven panchayat elections, all in time. The poor for the first time got an opportunity to utilise their vote freely, and majority of the elected members were poor people. But Ms Banerjee tried to destroy this decentralised rural democracy. She started to ignore the elected panchayats and started to contact BDOs directly, asking them to work as per her advice. She encouraged the bureaucrats to ignore elected bodies.

Her dillydallying in holding the panchayat elections is ell known. First she announced elections without talking to the election commissioner or revising the voters list which is mandatory. The Left Front then approached the CEC who ordered a revision of electoral rolls; about 25 lakh new voters were enrolled. Then she announced two days polling with only state police being used, whereas the State Election Commission asked for five days polling with use of central forces. The government disregarded it and the EC approached High Court which upheld the latter’s plea. The government then appealed to a double bench of High Court, which took a lot of time. When the EC approached the Supreme Court for an early decision, the latter ordered five-phase election and use of central forces. The Supreme Court also flayed the bad law and order situation in the state. The polling period fell in the month of Ramazan and Ms Mamata tried to postpone election on this plea, but the Supreme Court said the state government was responsible for the delay and for fixing the polling dates in the month of Muslims’ fasting. All her attempt to delay the elections thus failed; they were finally held in five phases.

But Ms Banerjee made the election a farce. She organised a squad of motorcycle borne goons to terrorise the people. Though the High Court ordered her to check this force, she did not pay heed to it and continued the terror activities. As a result, 6000 plus Left candidates could not file nomination papers and TMC ‘won’ those seats uncontested. During polling too, TMC goons terrorised the voters with police help. Central forces were either kept in barracks or used for street patrolling. As a result, there was wide ranging booth capturing and intimidation of voters. Driving many voters away, TMC goons thus captured 4,470 booths. The police worked fully in tandem with them. A large number of Left activists were attacked and 24 killed during the election period. Later, TMC goons captured many of the counting centres, damaged ballot papers and even declared their candidates elected without proper counting.

It was thus that the TMC ‘won’ 14 zilla parishads and a majority of panchayat samitis and gram panchayats. The Left could win in two zilla parishads and the Congress managed two. The final tally shows that out of 48,800 gram panchayat seats, the TMC won 25,077 seats (51 per cent). In spite of all such severe attacks, rigging and capturing, Left Front won 15,593 seats (32 per cent) and the Congress managed 5,506 (11 per cent). Even if the result of is uneven, it is not so bad for the Left in view of such semi-fascist attacks. The TMC victory in fact does not reflect the people’s support.

This means Ms Mamata’s resolve to eliminate the Left from West Bengal got a rebuff; the Left still has substantial support base and strength to fight back for restoration of democracy.

West Bengal has had a long history of democratic student movement, with regular elections to student unions. Schools too are managed by representatives elected by guardians. But the TMC has criminalised a section of students and is attacking the democratic sections of students. Colleges, universities and schools were attacked by goons all over West Bengal and many students were killed. Union elections were announced under strong pressure from students but when the Left oriented organisations won in colleges where free and fair elections took place, elections to the remaining were postponed on the plea of violence in educational institutions. Thus the democratic rights of students were curbed in West Bengal. When the SFI protested against it, one of its leaders, Comrade Sudipta Gupta, was killed in police custody, for which a CBI enquiry was denied.

After observing its growing isolation from the masses, the TMC decided to dispense with all elected bodies in the state. Instead of elected bodies, they are now going in for nominated bodies for management of schools, colleges and cooperative bodies in the state.

When the true face of Mamata government came out gradually, it disillusioned even those intellectuals who had worked hard to bring her to power. Now all such intellectuals, writers, artists, film actors, poets and professors do say that the paribarton (change) they had expected has not come. They are now feeling cheated and openly saying so in their writings, in their TV talks and in public meetings. Minorities too were influenced by her demagogy and false promises. But they too are feeling cheated as, within three months of coming to power, Ms Banerjee announced that she had completed 100 per cent of her promises to the Muslims.

This is thus the experience of many in West Bengal --- that the promised paribarton has not come. Expectations of no section of the people were fulfilled. The people of Singur were assured to get their land back in three months, but nothing has happened after two years. Dozens of railway projects Ms Mamata had promised as railway minister have proved false; not a single project whereof foundation stones were laid was taken up for implementation. Ms Banerjee’s falsehood regarding the state’s development is increasingly coming to the fore. If anybody raises a question about it, brutal force is there to suppress him. Thus this is high time --- not only for the Left but for all the democratic forces --- to rise to the occasion and fight for restoration of democracy in West Bengal.

People's Democracy, August 18 , 2013

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