The attack on the motorcade of BJP president J P Nadda near Kolkata on Thursday, allegedly by cadres of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), is shocking. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called the incident a “drama” and blamed the BJP for the violence. Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has accused the bureaucracy of ignoring his warning about a potential threat to law and order and warned the chief minister “not to play with fire”. The central government has waded into the issue, with the Union Home Ministry asking for a report from the administration. These events are disturbing, especially since political competition is set to intensify ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
It is true that the Centre seems to be showing undue interest in matters that fall in the domain of the state government. And that Governor Dhankhar, formerly a BJP leader, has invited the charge of partisanship in the positions he takes on major issues. It is also the case that local BJP leaders such as state chief Dilip Ghosh have conducted polarising public campaigns. None of this, however, takes away from the fact that the primary responsibility of upholding law and order lies with government. As CM, Mamata Banerjee is responsible for keeping the peace in the state and ensuring the right of Opposition parties to organise and campaign. If any outfit crosses the limits of constitutional propriety, the government can take legal recourse and suitable administrative action. Unfortunately, the CM is seen to turn a blind eye to her party leaders and cadres, who are accused of unleashing violence against the Opposition, especially the BJP. In the past, the CPM and Congress, too, have blamed the ruling outfit of attacking their workers. In fact, an unusual number of TMC candidates were elected unopposed in the 2018 panchayat polls because opposition nominees allegedly withdrew from the contest fearing violence. This year, at least two dozen people have died in political clashes.
The TMC did not pioneer the use of violence to achieve political dominance — the Congress and the CPM have a record of suppressing the Opposition voice during their time in office. However, this vicious cycle and template of the capture by the ruling party of all spaces and institutions needs to be broken. A “normal” politics, which allows space for the Opposition as well, is essential in West Bengal. And for this course correction, the ruling party must take the lead and be seen to do so too.