The third phase of Bengal polls was marred by an alarming increase in violence with two people killed, at least five candidates from different parties attacked, and even videos of alleged voter suppression surfacing. At Arambagh in Hooghly, TMC candidate Sujata Mondal Khan was attacked with bamboo poles and chased through a paddy field. BJP’s Uluberia South candidate Papiya Adhikary was assaulted when she went to meet some injured party workers at a hospital, and the party’s Tarakeshwar nominee Swapan Dasgupta’s polling agent was also targeted.
All this illustrates the fierce electoral battle underway in Bengal. While the state does have a history of political violence, the current level of polarisation hasn’t been witnessed in years. This has seen the Election Commission of India come under intense pressure, with its neutrality and that of the central forces being questioned by candidates. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has even called on her party’s women supporters to swarm central forces personnel if they are found to be interfering with polling. Casual use of such rhetoric undermines public trust in the electoral process and deepens the humongous challenges EC faces in conducting polls in Bengal.
For the sake of fair elections, EC has to somehow prevent poll violence in the remaining five phases. Trying to police speeches of candidates – as it has done in Tamil Nadu by issuing a notice to Udhayanidhi Stalin for remarks on late BJP netas – must take a back seat. It is a slippery slope anyway. But protecting voters and candidates from physical harm is the most fundamental of EC’s functions. Meanwhile, both TMC and BJP leaderships must cool temperatures. A political contest must not become a blood feud. The sanctity of voting must not be undermined by vicious tactics. In a violence-marred election, it is not democracy that wins.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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