The unusually peaceful polling during phase one in West Bengal that covered parts of Junglemahal – the LWE affected areas may not guarantee that the next phase slated on April 11 would be equally incident and violence free. For mischief makers the best time to strike is when the administrative machinery is complacent and sinks into a sense of success. The next phase covers the remaining part of the Junglemahal and one part of Burdwan district.
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Surprisingly, the political discourse after the peaceful first phase has revolved round the central security forces and their role in the polls. A large number of para-military forces, close to 40 companies, were deployed in addition to the state police battalions and local police station personnel for the first phase. Apparently, the opposition parties are not happy and raised questions over the central forces’ deployment only in the polling booths and not in the interiors of the villages from where voters actually had to travel to the polling stations to cast their votes. There had been threats and intimidations on the way, they alleged.
The fact that over 80 per cent of the voters cast their votes in all the three districts that went to the polls is itself an indication of the spontaneous participation of voters in the electoral process. Tribal communities in Junglemahal traditionally wear a festive look during elections and celebrate the occasion. By any standard, the polling percentage of over 80 per cent is close to the optimum participation level for the electorate.
One interesting aspect is the cricketing analogy that both the sides have resorted to after the first phase. In the IPL season, it might have been a natural corollary, a bid to woo and egg on the electorate in the remaining phases. The leader of the opposition and CPM state secretary and politburo member, Surya Kanta Mishra reacted after the first phase saying, “Voters have hit a six, sending the Trinamool Congress out of the playing arena in Junglemahal.” Mukul Roy – the recently reinstated Trinamool Congress leader retorted, “The Junglemahl voters have bowled and uprooted all the three wickets – the CPM, Congress and the BJP. “
In private, the senior leaders of both the sides say that these are “vocal tonic” for the remaining phases. So, even if the ECI has done a commendable job, pressure has to be mounted to boost the morale of the party’s rank and file.
Coming back to the issue of security forces and the persistent demands for their greater involvement in the electoral process seem to signal an uncanny dimension to this huge democratic exercise. The question that looms large – should political parties championing the cause of democracy clamour for for military presence in the democratic process? Shouldn’t there be a transition towards a system in which more scientific tools come in operation to ensure a free, fair and peaceful polling instead of gun-toting security forces teeming around voters?
Besides, “sensitive booths,” “area domination,” “sanitization” “route march”, “flag march” are words which are in abundant use now and seem to create more of a jarring note than cohesion in a celebration of democracy. According to one estimate about Rs 25 crore would be the cost for 200 companies of security forces for a period of three months in West Bengal. Multiply this several times to calculate how much 800 companies of securityforces – who are expected to descend on Bengal – would cost the state exchequer.
On this count, Didi has few grounds against the opposition clamour for more security intervention. When in opposition, she persistently asked for the imposition of Article 365 – President’s Rule — in West Bengal for holding free and fair polls. The bug is back to bite her now.