Sripur in South 24 Parganas district is among the 66 per cent gram panchayats which will see polling in Monday’s elections in West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress has won 34 per cent of the seats uncontested, a figure large enough to invite the Supreme Court ire, which has withheld announcement of their results.
To ensure that the remaining panchayats are not similarly won by the TMC uncontested, in Sripur panchayat and many others in South Parganas, the opposition members and Independents have come together. While in the 2016 Assembly elections, there was a ‘People’s Alliance’ between the Left and Congress, in Monday’s elections here, it will be the TMC versus everybody else.
There are 15 gram panchayat seats in Sripur and three panchayat samitis. A stronghold of a Left party, SUCI, till 2012, it went to the TMC in 2013. In this election, the SUCI has eight candidates, the Congress four and CPM three. Five of these candidates are however not contesting on their party symbols but either on the symbol of boat, chosen for those representing all other parties in the fray (barring the BJP), or of mango, which all the Independent candidates are running on.
“Even though we don’t have an alliance with the BJP, at the grassroot level we have an understanding with them. If their candidate is strong in a booth, our people will endorse that our people vote for the BJP. If our candidate is strong, then BJP workers have gone out and endorsed our candidate,” says a CPM worker, not wishing to be named.
Moinak Kashari was a CPM gram panchayat member in the 2013 polls. Not a contestant this time, he says, “The primary aim is to defeat the TMC at all costs. Our panchayat will not go uncontested. It’s because all of us are united. There is no way the TMC can break this stronghold.”
Many candidates standing in this area, in fact, are TMC workers who claim they are opposed to its strong-arm tactics against Opposition leaders, or fed up of corruption by its grassroot leaders. Sanjit Deb, contesting on the boat symbol, says, “I was quite vocal in my dissidence against the TMC,” he says. “Fifteen days ago, the alliance approached me and I agreed to stand against the TMC candidate. I now represent all the parties — the Congress, CPM and SUCI.”
Hours to go before the polls, more precautions are being taken, including briefing booth agents and putting workers on alert to keep out unknown persons trying to armtwist or bribe voters. Sabhapati Shankar Roy (59) of the Congress is briefing workers in Kashipur, talking about the TMC “misusing” MNREGS job cards to “line own coffers”. “Then there are the kitchen garden, banana plantation schemes and Indira Vikas Yojana. Some TMC leaders have two-three houses each under the housing scheme. We are all fed up of this,” says Roy.
It is this discontent that has prompted Ramkrishnapur village to persuade TMC worker Amar Ghosh (43) to stand as an Independent, with support of the informal alliance. SUCI leader Dipen Koyal (57) says the reason the TMC has “attempted that all seats be won uncontested” is not so much the threat of Opposition, but the threat from within the party.
In the Dakshin Barashat gram panchayat, the Opposition has come together to form the Ganatantra Bachao Committee (Save Democracy Committee). There are no party flags here, except a few put up by the TMC. “Nobody is fighting on behalf of any particular party, but together. There are areas where there has been trouble since March 31, when the elections were announced. We get reports of bombings,” says CPM worker Apurba Pramanik.
Shamik Lahiri, the CPM South 24 Parganas district secretary, says there are 12 blocks in the district where no nominations have been filed by the Opposition. Most of them are in Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency. “The TMC says that the Opposition does not have any candidates. In the 2016 Assembly elections, we got 16,000 more votes in seven Assembly constituencies combined than the TMC. So how is this possible? There are 4,800 gram panchayat seats in the district and we have filed nominations in 2,300. Out of these 2,300, 1,500 are fighting as Independents, because if they were to fight under our banner, they would be attacked.”
TMC candidate Utpal Roy, standing from zila parishad number 38, admits that many TMC workers have filed nominations as Independents, but has a unique theory. “They are mostly schoolteachers and they have done this to avoid being sent on election duty,” he says.
The three-tier state panchayat polls are happening after several delays, amid reports of violence and allegations of the TMC threatening the Opposition. With the TMC winning 34 per cent of the panchayat seats “uncontested”, 1,15,611 candidates (the TMC’s 31,709, the BJP’s 22,637 the CPM’s 16,699) are in the fray for the remaining. Counting will take place on May 17.
The TMC has also won many of the panchayat samitis and zila parishad uncontested.
The State Election Commission has said that every polling booth will have an armed police personnel along with a constable on Monday.