Not Easy For EC
It's a first, anywhere. Officials of the Election Commission – the central election-monitoring watchdog vested with the responsibility of ensuring free and fair elections – have been roughed up in a small town in north Bengal, while they were trying to do their job. And the roughing up was done by goons allegedly associated with the ruling Trinamool Congress party. How do we know that? Well, first of all the goons – who arrived in a large gang on motorbikes – were waving large Trinamool flags. Moreover, news cameras spotted amongst the anti-socials a man shouting instructions like "beat them up" and, "set fire to their vehicles". This man turned out to be the son-in-law of the local contestant. Though he has vehemently denied that it was him – saying that he was somewhere else – news channels kept showing the footage, zooming on his face. Last heard, he is still going blue in the face, denying.
Now, this tussle between the Central Election Commission and the ruling Trinamool party has a history. Not too distant a history. Just two to three days before the "bash-up-the-EC-guys/burn-their-vehicles" episode rocked the state, sending shockwaves and shivers down the spines of the democratically-inclined people, none other then the Bengal chief minister, took punga with the EC. The EC, which had sent some officials to test the pre-poll political climate in the state (to ensure that it will be free and fair, as they are supposed to do), found that six officials were too close to the ruling TMC to be neutral election officers. So they asked the Mamata Banerjee state government to send them to the Centre to be deployed in a part of the country where they cannot exert or exercise their influence. Mamata flatly refused saying "nothing doing."
Now, the EC, which has the constitutional authority to issue such orders, is not usually known to be refused in this manner. They had the power to initiate action against the state, including cancelling the elections. Still, they gave Didi a little time. Maybe in deference to Didi's well-established reputation of someone who has little patience with laws which she finds inconvenient (she had once infamously declared that "sometimes judgments are bought" after the human rights commission ordered her government to pay compensation to victims of state excesses like arresting a farmer for interrupting the CM's speech at a rally and putting a professor behind bars for sending out an e-mail caricaturing the CM). Finally Didi complied. She had no choice. It was a veritable constitutional crisis kind of situation and the threat of President's rule loomed large. She obviously didn't want that to happen. So she acquiesced. She keeps having to swallow her pride. Remember when she accepted Pranab Mukherjee's presidency with a "heavy heart"?
Jungle Jungle Pataa Chala Hai...
Carrying forward this legacy of "jungle raj" which is what election season in West Bengal is increasingly turning out to be, is an otherwise little known man called Anubratata Mondal. No one would have heard about this podgy self-proclaimed Mamata-admirer from Bengal's remote Birbhum district, had he not made a hate-speech which urged all TMC workers to "throw bombs at and set fire to the houses of" political rivals. Soon after his speech, alleged TMC activists shot dead a local contestant and Mondal was accused of inciting the murder. Mondal should have been arrested. But he wasn't. Known to be close to Mamata and shielded by her, he is not just still on the loose, but this week Mamata was seen campaigning with him in tow. The Calcutta High Court has not taken well to this clear display of what is known as politician-criminal nexus and has asked the state's Director General of Police to appear before the court and explain why the man has not yet been arrested. In the meantime Anurbrata has made another appeal to his party workers to "cut off the wrists of anyone who dares to tear off Mamata Banerjee's posters from any wall in West Bengal." The reference was, again, to EC workers who had been removing illegally-pasted posters from various places across the state.
Angering The Angry Woman
Finally, some people mustered up the courage to paint cartoons and caricatures of Mamata Banerjee. And who else to take this bold step but her arch enemy, the CPI-M? After the Ambikesh Mahapatra incident, when a professor was beaten up by goons and then arrested for circulating an e-mail which caricatured Didi, not may dared to paint or draw her for fear of meeting with the same fate. As election season unfolded and graffiti started appearing on Bengal's walls, Didi's cartoons were conspicuous by their absence. Lately however, caricatures of an angry woman in a white sari with blue border has been spotted in a few places. The accompanying message is loud and clear: "If you don't want to incur the wrath of this angry woman, don't vote for her." A CPI-M party worker explains, "The graffiti war was just not that much fun without the visual of an angry Didi. We have always done it in the past. Now we are doing it again. Ja hoy hobe (Let her do what she wants)".
Reaching Out To Voters
A CPI-M poster hanging behind a rikshaw read: "Aar matro koyek deen...bhalo korey dekhey neen…ei cheenhey chhap deen..”" (just a few more days to go…look carefully, so you know...where to vote, here you go).