"However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad". Ambedkar's prescient words resonate through the experiences of the last four years when those in power have strained to undermine and dilute constitutional guarantees of rights, liberties and freedoms.
However, recent developments in Bengal in the context of the panchayat
elections show that some opposition parties in power in the states, in this specific case the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Mamata Banerjee, are not far behind. On the contrary, they can play a role which is devastatingly similar, if not worse in its crudity - Mamata Banerjee repeatedly stated that she wanted "opposition-free panchayats
" - to that played by the BJP in stifling the processes of parliamentary democracy.
We have heard of rigging of votes, of booth-capturing and even of electoral machine-capturing. Several parties have raised questions about the integrity of EVMs and now the Congress party has also joined the demand of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to go back to the ballot paper system. But perhaps this is the first time that we have witnessed the kind of mass pre-poll rigging of candidates nominations by the combined use of the armed goonda
gangs of the TMC, the state police and an utterly compromised State Election Commission.
Candidates in the panchayat
elections were to file their nominations for the gram panchayats
at the BDO offices, panchayat samitis
at the SDO offices and for the Zila Parishads
at the office of the District Magistrate. The State Election Commission which announced a three-phase election schedule started the nomination process on the date of notification, giving little time for preparations. It declared that nominations for all three phases had to be done simultaneously even though there is a five-day gap between the first phase of elections and the last. While only seven days were given for nominations for 58, 692 panchayat
seats, the same amount of time was given for withdrawals. The only explanation for this bizarre schedule was to give ample scope and time for local dons affiliated to the ruling party to put pressure on opponents to withdraw their nominations. All these were highly unusual steps but even this did not satisfy the TMC committed to implement its supremo's call for opposition-free panchayats.
As soon as the nominations started, armed gangs of the TMC enjoying the patronage of the police cordoned off BDO and SDO offices and in some cases even those of the District Magistrate. Video footage widely circulated shows the same methods being used throughout the state, clearly part of a central plan. A video of two women candidates belonging to the Forward Bloc who had gone to file their nominations in an office in Arambagh, Hooghly district, being brutally attacked, being pulled by their hair, their nomination papers being snatched away and torn, is symbolic of the murder of democracy in the state.
Left candidates have been particular targets of attack. Ram Chandra Dome, a five-time former MP, suffered serious head injuries in the attack on him and had to be hospitalized. Basudev Acharya, a nine-time former MP and leader of the CPI(M) group in the Lok Sabha, Sujon Chakravorty, MLA and leader of the CPI(M) group in the state assembly, were manhandled by goonda
gangs. Women candidates faced sexual harassment in many places. Hundreds of candidates have been injured, some very seriously.
The State Election Commission did another somersault by first extending the nominations date by a day and then again withdrawing its own notification within a few hours after the intervention of the ruling party.
It is not known how many seats are uncontested, but one estimate puts it at over one third of the seats at the gram panchayat
level. The elections are a farce. It shows the desperation of the TMC which is clearly losing support among the people.
Mamata Banerjee has given license to a mob of lumpen elements for the criminalization of politics and the destruction of a panchayat
system in Bengal which was earlier recognized as a model for democratic, decentralized governance. The capture of the panchayats
by TMC criminal elements has another dimension: under the Left regime, the power of decision-making in panchayats
had shifted decisively in favour of the rural poor backed by the most radical land reform programme the country had seen. This is sought to be reversed through shifting power to the new rural rich, corrupt contractors, agents of the ruling party by the use of violence. Thus this attack on democracy also has a strong anti-poor content.
The violence unleashed by the TMC against opponents comes in the wake of the communal violence led and planned by the Sangh Parivar
and its outfits at the time of Ram Navami
in many areas of Bengal to communalise Bengal and reap the bloodied benefit in the panchayat
elections. The celebration of Ram Navami
in this manner has never ever been a part of the cultural traditions of Bengal. BJP leaders were directly involved in organizing armed processions, with aggressive participants flaunting naked swords and shouting the most provocative slogans and statements. The TMC government utterly failed to prevent the consequent communal violence of arson, injuries and the death of several people. On the contrary, the ruling TMC organized many of its own processions and its leaders in some places joined the armed processions in a macabre competitive politics of who can best appropriate Ram for political gain.
In this dreadful game, it was Bengal who lost.
Hardly has the state recovered when the TMC has unleashed a ferocious attack on democratic rights of the people of Bengal, particularly the rural poor. This will further help communal forces by weakening the voice of the people. Communalism can never be fought by destroying the democratic rights of the people.
It is remarkable that in spite of being threatened and/or viciously targeted and beaten, and with their families and children's security in jeopardy, candidates of the Left parties have still rallied to file their nominations after a bitter struggle. The spirit of resistance is very much evident in the bravery of these women and men many of them from the poorest sections of rural Bengal.
Even though the result of the panchayat
elections is hardly unpredictable, it is this courage of resistance which gives hope that Bengal will fight back the murder of democracy by the TMC in Bengal and the BJP-RSS combined efforts to divide and destroy Bengal through a toxic communal agenda.
Mamata Banerjee's posturing as the anti-BJP "crusader" with her spokesmen in parliament waxing eloquent about her "acceptability and experience" has been exposed as utterly hollow self-promotion.(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.