If morning shows the day, panchayat elections in West Bengal scrupulously followed the sanguinary script. Ever since polls were announced on March 31, Bengal had descended into a cycle of violence, intimidation and chaos. The ruling Trinamool countered the litany of opposition complaints with bland denials, as the nomination process and final date of polling wound through a tortuous legal and political path. On May 14, the violence, as expected, reached a bloody crescendo. In all, 14 people lost their lives, including TMC members; hundreds were injured. Bombs were lobbed, sticks wielded with impunity, guns brandished to terrorise voters. Especial attention was lavished on ballot boxes—some were set afire, some prised open with pokers, others had water poured inside them. Still, an indefatigable 72.5 per cent of the electorate voted.
On the face of it, it was just a rural election. But if capturing power in West Bengal is one of the avowed goals of the BJP, it has made poor progress in making itself count in the panchayat polls. “Any party which rules rural governments is in a good position to control the assembly and Lok Sabha elections,” political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty says.