More than a month has passed since the West Bengal panchayat elections. But the face-off between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, which started in the run-up to the polls, shows no sign of abating. In the past few days, senior leaders of both parties have inflamed political passions with threatening statements. After state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh threatened Trinamool cadres with “encounters”, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee described the BJP as a militant organisation that spreads hatred. This intemperate language could further worsen relations between party workers and supporters, who have been frequently clashing on the streets.
West Bengal is not new to political violence. Since the 1970s, parties aspiring for political domination has sought to use violence to intimidate and even silence rivals. From the Congress and Trinamool to the Marxists and Naxalites, parties of every ideological hue have preferred political assertion through violent means rather than reasoned debate. The BJP, which is fast emerging as the principal opposition in the state, is only the most recent outfit to raise the spectre of violence for political domination: Ghosh and other BJP leaders have been unabashed in conducting political debate in a polarising, if not threatening, language since the party took the decision to expand its base in West Bengal. The Trinamool, having been at the receiving end of CPM violence initially and now in pole position in the state on account of its ability to physically subdue the opposition, has matched the BJP in word and deed. What’s appalling about the recent war of words is that it involves senior leaders who ought to be advising sanity to cadres. Banerjee, who seems to have national ambitions, should know that the spotlight is on her. Her aggressive posture may impress party cadres, but it could shift the focus from her impressive record in winning elections and gains as an administrator. The image of a firebrand facilitated her rise as a politician, but that phase is long past. Into her second term as CM, Banerjee’s legacy will now will be shaped by her conduct in office. This demands that she rise above petty and partisan interests.
It is disquieting that even when the principal actors in state politics change, the norms of political conduct refuse to change. The acceptance of violence as a normal state of politics has prevented the state from realising its full developmental potential.