The battle between Trinamool Congress and BJP in the 2018 panchayat polls took centre stage in the state, with every part of the process marred by violence. It saw TMC win 34 per cent of seats uncontested — the highest in the history of Bengal’s rural polls — and BJP emerge a distant second to become the main opposition party.
The CPM and Congress were pushed to third and fourth place respectively.
The polls were initially scheduled to be held in three phases. However, the Calcutta High Court directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to reschedule the process after the Opposition moved court following widespread violence during the filing of nominations. Later, the SEC announced the election would be held in a single phase on May 14.
Following violence during nominations, the HC directed SEC to accept the nomination of nine independent candidates from Bhangar in South 24 Parganas who had sent their papers to the block development officer (BDO) through WhatsApp. Later, the court also directed the state poll panel to accept nominations of CPM candidates sent via email.
‘Politically-motivated’ murders in December
Dec 13: 3 gunned down in Jaynagar TMC MLA Biswanath Das’s car in Baruipur. The deceased were two of Das’s associates and his driver. Das was not in the vehicle when the attack occurred. n Dec 14: Trinamool leader Hamid Ansari (44) was shot dead at point blank range in Adra area of Purulia. He was a member of the TMC district committee. n Dec16: TMC leader Sheikh Mukhtar (40) was killed by unknown miscreants in Hooghly. A section of TMC workers and the family of the deceased alleged that Mukhtar was killed by a rival group in the party.
On polling day, incidents of violence were reported across the state, resulting in 14 dead. Polling was held in 66 per cent of the total seats as the TMC won the rest uncontested. The TMC won all 19 Zilla Parishads which went to polls, the twentieth did not go to polls as the TMC won it uncontested. The BJP performed well in districts such as Purulia, Jhargram, West Midnapore and Bankura.
Shortly after the polls concluded, BJP worker Trilochan Mahato was found hanging from a tree in Balarampur area of Purulia. Days later, another party worker Dulal Kumar was found hanging from a power transmission tower. In both cases, BJP has accused TMC workers. The ruling party denied the allegations. The state government later ordered CID probe in both the cases, after which investigators said Kumar’s postmortem report revealed that he had committed suicide.
Prior to the elections, BJP worker Jagannath Tudu was found dead in the district. BJP national president Amit Shah visited Purulia in June and met the family of the three deceased workers. TMC sources had said that the BJP’s performance in western districts led to the party removing its presidents in five blocks of Purulia where its performance was not good. Later, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dropped three ministers from her Cabinet — Backward Class Welfare Minister Churamani Mahato, Tribal Development Minister James Kujur and Abani Joardar, who did not hold a portfolio at the time.
On poll violence
Given the incidents of violence that were reported during and after the election process, political observers said the trend is likely to continue in the lead-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “This reason for this violence is unemployment and lack of employment opportunities for people living in villages. They are over-dependent on political parties to earn a livelihood. A number of development projects are initiated through panchayats and there is a lot of funding from the state government and Centre,” said Maidul Islam, an assistant professor of political science at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.
The TMC blamed BJP for inciting violence. “Of 14 people killed on May 14, 10 belonged to TMC. It proves BJP is attacking our workers but putting blame on us. Their leaders are making inflammatory speeches on a regular basis and dividing people along religious lines. We have asked our workers to… not respond to such provocations. If anyone tries to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere here, the administration will take action accordingly,” said TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee.