Can EC buck the trend and ensure a violence-free election in West Bengal?
The Election Commission will have to walk the extra mile | Photo: PTI

Can EC buck the trend and ensure a violence-free election in West Bengal?

The Election Commission needs to pull its socks up to ensure violence-free elections in West Bengal which is hard to keep in check

Can West Bengal buck its ignominious trend of political violence during elections? This is the biggest question weighing the minds of everyone from the Election Commission (EC) to the electorate.

No poll-related death so far, even as about a fortnight is left for the first phase of general elections to begin, may have raised hope, but not all is quiet on the ground, leaving room for concern.

There are reports of sporadic incidents of violence, particularly in Cooch Behar, one of the three Lok Sabha constituencies that will go to the polls in the inaugural phase on April 19.

North Bengal Development Minister Udayan Guha’s car was vandalised allegedly by BJP supporters on Sunday (March 31). Five persons were arrested in this connection. There were also incidents of bomb hurling in Dinhata sub-division of the constituency from where Union Minister of State for Home Nishit Pramanik is seeking re-election.

TMC and BJP workers coming to blows

The tension has been palpable in the constituency ever since the Trinamool Congress and BJP workers clashed on March 20 in the presence of Guha and Pramanik. Several persons, including policemen, were injured in the clash.

Intermittent incidents of violence were also witnessed in multiple other places across the state. These include Bhangor, Canning and Gosaba in South 24 Parganas district, Krishnanagar in Nadia district, Pandebeswar in East Burdwan and Berhampore in Murshidabad, among others.

These incidents are an effective forewarning for the Election Commission. If it fails to act more firmly, then the brouhaha about unprecedented deployment of central armed police force (CAPF) personnel to ensure violence-free elections staggered in seven phases will end up being much ado about nothing.

Heavy presence of armed forces

The poll panel has decided to press into election duty 920 companies of CAPF, which is about one lakh personnel. About 100 companies of CAPF were dispatched to the state for confidence building measures even before the poll schedules were announced.

The personnel are doing regular route marches, identifying not only vulnerable areas but also vulnerable voters.

Past victims of political violence and those who have been intimidated by any political group are being tagged as vulnerable voters.

Identification of vulnerable voters

Election Commission sources said it has already identified thousands of such voters in various districts. The CAPF has been asked to do regular patrolling in the areas where there is high concentration of such voters.

The EC has also made provision for the residents to lodge complaints about the route march conducted by the CAPF and decided to upload the details of it in the website of CEO West Bengal.

It has further decided to monitor live videos of polling in the state’s 80,530 booths through webcasting. This is for the first-time live videos of voting will be streamed from all the polling booths of the state. Only 50 per cent of the booths were covered in the 2021 assembly elections.

Announcing this, the commission on Tuesday (April 2) said the step has been taken to ensure transparent and incident-free voting.

West Bengal Governor lends help

Governor CV Anand Bose also chipped in to supplement the Election Commission’s efforts by launching the “Lok Sabha” portal for public grievances.

The public can report complaints and grievances related to conduct of elections on the portal through a dedicated email address Governor Bose said this has been done to curb election violence and corruption.

Governor Bose had opened a ‘Peace Room’ in the Raj Bhavan to address similar grievances from the public during the Panchayat elections last year. But the endeavour did not succeed in preventing violence. At least 20 persons were reported killed in the violence related to rural polls last year.

EC needs to pull its socks up

The state witnessed 11 deaths and over 690 incidents of poll-related violence in the last parliamentary elections held in 2019, according to a Home Ministry report.

“The Election Commission needs to properly implement the steps it has announced to curb violence to avert recurrence of what was witnessed in past elections,” stated political commentator and author Nirmalya Banerjee.

There are areas where the commission needs to pull its socks up, he said. For instance, the commission has announced that it will make public details of the route march, but the same has not been done since March 25.

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