Ask the CPM in West Bengal. It was panchayat polls in 2008 that set off alarm bells for its 30 year government and the first signal that they were in serious trouble. Three years later, in 2011, Mamata Banerjee did what many thought was impossible – dislodge the Left.
So, panchayat polls are basically the best political weathervanes.
And so the importance of the polls in Bengal on May 1, 3 and 5. Counting is on May 8.
But more important than voting and counting is the filing of nominations by candidates. If you use some muscle power and ensure your rival can’t file nomination or force him or her to withdraw it, you win unopposed.
And finding enough candidates is a huge challenge. Because the numbers are staggering. Up for grabs, are 58,692 seats. The break-up in the three-tier panchayat system is as follows: Gram Panchayat 48,650 seats, Panchayat Samiti 9217 seats and Zillia Parishad 825.
Polls were notified on April 2 and nominations ends April 9 with withdrawal limit set by April 16. From Monday itself, violence erupted.
On Tuesday, a man was killed in an alleged intra-Trinamool clash at Manikchak in Malda district though police later said the incident was the result of a political clash and had no political links.
Bankura, Birbhum and East Midnapore districts also saw violence. At Labhpur in Birbhum, men with masked faces drove up with swords in their hands to frighten off rival candidates gone to file nominations.
The opposition BJP, Congress and Left say Trinamool’s transport minister Subhendu Adhikari was provocative. At a public meet at East Midnapore district on March 26, he reportedly said, “For panchayats that are opposition free, I will construct chairs out of bricks and give a Rs 5 crore award.”
On Monday, Congress state chief Adhir Choudhury met the governor to complain about the Trinamool’s alleged terror tactics to stop his party men from filing nominations.
On Tuesday, the BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh met Governor KN Tripathi. Stepping out of Raj Bhavan, Mr Ghosh said, “The governor has called the chief secretary and home secretary. He has also asked the State Election Commissioner (SEC) to come and meet him on Wednesday.”
The Raj Bhavan has confirmed the SEC will meet the governor at noon on Wednesday.
Dilip Ghosh also said, “We are the main target of the Trinamool. We are not being allowed to file nomination. After nomination, there will be pressure to withdraw. We will fight back. We already are hitting back. Some 70 to 80 people will definitely go to the crematorium because of these elections.”
Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said, “Empty vessels make the most noise. The language Dilip Ghosh has used, clearly they have no respect for the law. We have seen what happened with the SC/ST protests yesterday. It is best they don’t talk of law and order.”
Mr Chatterjee also took exception to Mr Ghosh telling the media that the governor had called top bureaucrats and the state election commission on the phone. “Should the BJP have known about these calls,” Mr Chatterjee said. “Can the people be confident the governor as impartial?” he asked.
The countdown has begun to a panchayat poll that promises to be punishing for all sides.
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