Why Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal is back to stone-age polling

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The third of the five phases of Lok Sabha election in West Bengal was a huge disappointment for democracy. During polling, voters were beaten up for casting ballot, polling agents of opposition parties were attacked and thrown out of booths, supporters of the opposition parties were bloodied in fierce attacks, bombs were hurled at polling booths and ruling party's representatives monitored polling in booths.

EC, despite all claims, remained a mere spectator

And above all, the Election Commission was accused of remaining a mere spectator to the murder of democracy. Local news reports said no central forces were seen during the voting and half of the small number of webcams fitted at booths for monitoring proceedings (only 324 webcams allotted for 17,336 polling booths) was not working! The opposition parties slammed the top election officials for saying that the election was "free and fair". For most, it was a farce and a complete failure of the Election Commission, which had said confidently before the polls that it knew how to apply the right medicine when asked about conducting the general election in the challenging environment in West Bengal.

West Bengal went back to the Left days on April 30

The pictures that came from the state on Thursday, when the seventh phase of the sixteenth Lok Sabha election took place, reminded the days when the Left was at its peak in West Bengal. The current chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who was in the opposition then, had accused the Left Front government of rigging and not allowing a fair election in the state. This time, it was just a role reversal.

Why this deterioration in the 3rd phase?

The question is: Why did the situation deteriorate so much in the third phase? West Bengal had seen two phases before this on April 17 and 24 but there was no report about such large-scale violence. Even the two big polls in 2009 and 2011 in the state were praised by all political camps, which are otherwise known for their fierce confrontation. What is the reason for this?

TMC's show of strength in South Bengal

The first reason is the TMC's better organizational skills in the southern parts of West Bengal where it had a clean sweep in the 2009 Lok Sabha election and 2011 assembly polls. In the earlier two phases, the instances of violence were less since the TMC is still not that strong in constituencies in northern and central parts of West Bengal. On Thursday, the TMC had a free run in districts like Birbhum, Burdwan, Hooghly and Howrah which are under its domination now. One booth in Howrah saw 100 per cent polling getting over in just over two hours, reminding one about the farce that elections had become during the rule of the Left.

Ruling party's control over state machinery

Secondly, the TMC leadership had challenged the EC about the transferring of officials not without a reason. And even after some bureaucrats and police officers were shifted, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee didn't stop attacking the EC for at the end of the day, it was she who had the final control over the state machinery. The bureaucrats were reportedly intimidated by the political leadership that it would be a tough time for them once the elections get over and the Election Commission withdraws from the scene. This clearly rattled the administrative framework which is required to conduct free and fair elections.

Flawed exercise at state level misled central authorities

Thirdly, the entire procedure of preparing for the election was flawed and biased. Sources said the identification of critical booths was not done properly and the election authorities were misled. The final result was a flawed allotment of forces and their absence in areas where they were required the most.

Snowballing of Saradha scam at national level

And finally, the ruling party decided to unleash the forces, thanks to the snowballing of the Saradha scam in the state. The scam has made the headlines at a crucial time after national leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi raked it up to target the TMC and the latter retaliated with full intensity. The state leadership also unleashed the state police against some of the top Left leaders in the state in connection to the Saradha scam to divert attention ahead of the next phase of election in Bengal.

It called for a change, but Mamata's party has mastered Left style in 3 years

It is expected that the political culture in West Bengal will not be able to free itself from the shackles that the Left had once imposed for some time to come, but to see Mamata Banerjee choosing to continue with the same model is indeed shocking.

Is the meek surrender of the Election Commission and end to the story of democracy in West Bengal?

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