DEMOCRACY IN PERIL
A QUARTER-CENTURY OF CPI(M)’S RULE BY FEAR AND ELECTORAL FRAUD IN WEST BENGAL
Editor : Tathagata Roy
Published by :
on behalf of
Bharatiya Janata Party, West Bengal
6 Muralidhar Sen Lane
P R E F A C E
This is a political book, written with a political objective. That objective is to expose the nefarious methods adopted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) for short – to win elections and thereby perpetuate the regime that they have inflicted on the people of the State of West Bengal for the last twenty-six years, since 1977. That was when the country had just come out from the infamous Emergency of Indira Gandhi, in West Bengal made somewhat worse than elsewhere by the ham-handed methods of Chief Minister Siddhartha Sankar Ray. It was then that people thought, Oh, anything would be better than this! And voted the CPI(M) to power.
Oh, how wrong they were! The last twenty-six years of CPI(M) rule – in name, but only in name, Left Front rule, has reduced the state to being the cesspool of India, a position from which the Bengali can only croak “But at least we are better than Laloo’s Bihar!” But that is not all. The CPI(M) has won six general elections in a row on spite of this. How did they manage it? Basically by massive terrorization and electoral rigging, carried out by innovative, unheard-of methods, bordering on evil genius. Even this is not all. They have done all this, and managed to keep it a secret from the rest of the country.
When I speak about all this to others outside West Bengal, even Probashi Bangalis, the reaction is almost invariably, one of disbelief, spoken or unsaid : “This is just not possible, Yaar, aisa kabhi ho hi nahi sakta”! To repeat the hackneyed saying, truth is stranger than fiction. It has happened, it is happening, it will continue to happen ; aisa hua, ho raha hai, aur hota rahega, till the country wakes up to this sin. Public knowledge and public condemnation are essential to save the hapless Bengalis of West Bengal from a perpetual rule of terror, fraud and servitude, legalised by sham elections. This book is intended to bring about that public knowledge.
It is very often asked “Why does the Central Government not do something about it? BJP is in power there!” The answer to this is that the BJP is a democratic party which believes in democratic institutions. The CPI(M), on the other hand, is an avowedly Stalinist party (they are one of the few left in this world who openly venerate Stalin), to whom our multi-party system is just ‘bourgeois democracy’, to be taken advantage of in as many ways as possible, but never to be believed in. In their kind of democracy there is supposed to be only one party, and the ideal state of affairs would be Dictatorship of the Proletariat (read CPI(M)). Our Constitution-makers could not foresee a situation where this kind of a party would take advantage of the system only to try to wreck it from within, and therefore, the Constitution did not provide enough safeguards against such an eventuality. That is why the BJP has not been able to do much, in spite of being in power at the centre. For that matter the Congress have been in power at the centre much longer than the BJP, and they have not been able to do much either, though the persecution meted out to Congress supporters by the CPI(M) is many times that to BJP supporters. Our Constitution incorporated within itself provisions such as political neutrality of permanent government employees, which are essential for running the democracy, and which the CPI(M) has turned into a total joke. Now that we are faced with an unprecedented situation like this, we have to think of unprecedented methods.
Most of the facts narrated in this book are based on newspaper reports. The polling figures are authentic. The source has been quoted in each case. The CPI(M) or their government did not publish any denial of these reports at the material time. Where no newspaper source has been quoted, it should be taken to be based on my personal knowledge, gathered from talking to victims.
What did you say, Comrade? That this is all hearsay, not admissible in evidence, and moreover no one made a complaint to the police? Quite right, Comrade, but I am not trying to prove someone guilty before a criminal court! This is not a record for legal action, Comrade. As I said at the very beginning, this is a political book, remember! In any case, if you wish to, and are so advised, you can produce material to disprove what has been said, even sue for libel.
In editing this book I am indebted to my colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sahayogi Sangathanas, among whom I must make a special mention of S/Shri Arun Dey, Nirmal Dey and Ajit Biswas. But more than anyone else I am indebted to Shri Barun Sengupta, senior journalist and editor of the Bengali daily Bartaman, who has been carrying on a ceaseless crusade to expose the fraud for years, and who, by heaping abuse on the anti-Left parties (including ours) for inaction in this regard through his Sunday column Rajya-rajneeti, prodded me to take up this book.
I am also deeply indebted to Shri . . . . . for having kindly consented to write the foreword to this booklet.
I shall be grateful for suggestions for additions and alterations to the book. We also propose to bring out a Hindi version of the book shortly.
Kolkata T . R.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
By winning the 2001 State Assembly elections in West Bengal, the Left Front (of which the main and the only consequential constituent is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M) for short) was returned to power for the sixth time in a row. In the Panchayat Elections of 2003, out of 58,356 seats among the three tiers (called Zilla Parishad, Panchayat Samity and Gram Panchayat, top downwards), they won 34,906 seats, that is nearly 60 % of the total. There was no contest at all in 6,283 seats, that is in 11 % of the total. Of these, ¬all but a few returned CPI(M) candidates. The second most powerful electoral alliance, that of the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, could not even field any candidates in 23,843 seats, that is 40 % of the total, although in the 1998 Panchayat Elections they had no such difficulty. In fact, as we shall see in this book, they did rather well in those very zones in 1998 where they could not field any candidate in 2003. This alliance finished third, after the CPI(M) and the Congress. The CPI(M), when asked to comment on these statistics, attributed their uncontested wins and the Trinamool-BJP’s failure to field candidates to “The Left Front Government’s pro-people policies”, and the “People’s rejection of the Trinamool-BJP’s unprincipled alliance and their total isolation from the rural masses”, and facetiously added that it was no part of the CPI(M)’s duty to supply candidates for the Trinamool-BJP. Indeed, the election results, if viewed in isolation, may lead the viewer to a conclusion that CPI(M)’s achievements, as the principal constituent of the Left Front government, have been nothing short of extraordinary in the rural areas so much so that all parties other than the CPI(M) have become irrelevant.
Side by side with these statistics, the state of the State of West Bengal, as assessed through objective indicators, also requires to be looked at. After 26 years of Left Front rule, West Bengal leads the country in having the largest number of registered unemployed, around 62 Lakhs (the number of unregistered unemployed, if added to these, might make the number threefold). From being the first in terms of industrialisation and the second in terms of literacy in the whole country in the early years after independence, a position that the state had retained till the early sixties, West Bengal has slid way down the list, and is probably eleventh and seventeenth in the country respectively in the two above fields. However, it leads the country in regard to closed industries. A ranking of 19 states of India (which excludes all states of the Northeast except Assam and also excludes Sikkim and Pondicherry) carried out by Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies, commissioned by the newsmagazine India Today, was published in the May 9, 2003 issue of the magazine. According to this ranking, West Bengal is not in the reckoning at all, being in the lower half of the lot in every way. Its rank is 10th in terms of Agriculture, 12th in terms of Health as also Consumer Markets, 14th in terms of Prosperity and Budget, as also Education, 15th in terms of Infrastructure, 16th in terms of Law and Order, and an abysmally low 17th as an Investment Destination. If one were to look at these figures in isolation, one would conclude that the state is a model of misgovernance, surpassed in this respect only by Laloo’s Bihar.
Are these two sets of data consistent with each other ? The answer, obviously, is no, and thereby hangs a tale.
This tale could be called one of Trickery and Terror, Mayhem and Malpractice, or Despotism and Deceit. Actually any or all of these words sum up the secret of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s celebrated staying power in the unfortunate State of West Bengal. It is not very often in the world that a Communist Party gets elected to power through a democratic process and manages to stay there for twenty-six years, with seemingly no immediate possibility of an exit and all this amidst the worldwide collapse of Communism. And the CPI(M) is no ordinary Communist Party. It is one of the few left in this world which still publicly venerates Stalin. Indeed, to Political Scientists and to practical politicians with no more than a superficial knowledge of West Bengal politics, the CPI(M)’s being in power is a question that almost defies an answer.
On the other hand, people who are into the politics of West Bengal know the answer too well. It has already been summed up in the several two-word combinations mentioned above. The diabolical cunning with which the trickery is practiced or the deceit is perpetrated or the malpractice is put into effect is matched only by a totally cynical disregard for the truth, for human life, human feelings, human rights, liberty of the individual, democratic traditions or institutions and for any kind of the future for the State. All that matters is that the PARTY MUST STAY IN POWER, NO MATTER WHAT and this end will justify ALL means.
One point must be clarified at the very outset. The answer to the question “Who rules West Bengal?” can only be “the CPI(M)” and not “the Left Front” or any such thing. In theory there is a Left front in which the CPI(M) is only one of the constituents, the others being the Forward Bloc (FB), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a host of smaller parties. In practice the rest just do what the CPI(M) tells them to do, and tells them often not very politely. Occasionally, being forced to do this kind of toadying just to stay in power gets under these parties’ skins, and they try to assert their independence. The result always is unmitigated disaster for these parties, and a meek retreat to toadyism on their part and a reiteration of CPI(M)’s unquestioned supremacy.
The answer to the question “Who rules West Bengal?” may beg the next question “Who rules the CPI(M)”? The answer is currently (this is June 2003) an all-powerful triumvirate, consisting of State Secretary Anil Biswas, Politburo member Biman Bose and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya. These three were all selections of CPI(M)’s founder-Secretary, arch-Stalinist Promode Dasgupta, and had been carefully groomed by him. The three are three different types, but regimentation and relentless indoctrination over the years, has resulted in a Mafia-like conviction in them that nothing, absolutely nothing, neither the country, nor any individual perception of right and wrong, can come above the party. This conviction makes them gel very well together. Jyoti Basu was different for him the welfare of his son (more about him later) and his own material comforts were just as important as the party. His voice is still heard, but only just. Age has finally caught up with him, and an irritable bowel syndrome makes it difficult for him to undertake journeys away from home.
The RSP has been one of the worst sufferers respect of the assertions of independence mentioned earlier, followed by a meek withdrawal in each case. Jatin Chakraborty, once a very important leader of the RSP, and West Bengal’s PWD minister, was simply jettisoned by his party after he objected to some misdeeds committed by Chandan Basu, Jyoti Basu’s only son who rose from a Rs. 700-a-month clerk in Bengal Lamp Co. in 1977 to an entrepreneur worth more than a thousand crores of Rupees today. Matish Roy, a successor of Jatin, had differed with Jyoti Basu on some point. When asked to comment on this, Jyoti Basu publicly remarked “Dhoor Matish!” (To hell with Matish!). Poor Matish had to swallow every bit of the insult.
But the worst treatment of the RSP at the hands of the CPI(M) took place in the runup to the 2003 Panchayat elections. The RSP had their own pockets of influence, and the CPI(M), ever apprehensive of a bad result owing to their misgovernance, was not prepared to concede any space to them even in these pockets. The Left Front partners are supposed to hang together, but in most of these pockets the RSP fought the CPI(M). The CPI(M) decided to give it back to them. RSP supporters were butchered in some of these pockets, especially in the district of South 24-Parganas. Biswanath Chowdhury, the RSP Minister in charge of Prisons was manhandled in South Dinajpur district during an election meeting. Amar Chowdhury, the PWD Minister was once manhandled in South 24-Parganas district, and a few days later chased by a murderous CPI(M) mob. The poor old man ran for his life for nearly a kilometre with his Dhoti half-unfastened, and trailing behind him. His repeated entreaties to the CPI(M) to arrest his pursuers, especially ‘a fat man’ were simply brushed aside.
It is however important, as well as interesting, to note that this yearning of the CPI(M) to stay perpetually in power is no longer a matter of choice with them, but one of compulsion. They know only too well that the hatred that they have caused to accumulate in the hearts of the people in the course of their despotic rule of the last twenty-six years, will incinerate them the moment they are voted out of power. In other words, they are riding a tiger. The going is great as long as it goes, but they cannot dismount, or the tiger will eat them up. They just have to cling to power. The question is, how do they manage to stay mounted? Or, in different words, how does their system work?
Put very briefly, it works in several ways. First, it works through the absence of a united, organised and determined opposition. Secondly, it works through the practice of controlled terror – which includes commercial as well as physical terror. Thirdly, it works through the distribution of ill-gotten wealth. Fourthly, it works through an intricate network of frontal organisations, all of which are supposed to work under an iron central control. Fifthly, it works through a very clever, very well-planned system of electoral rigging, which is now public knowledge, and is known as ‘Scientific Rigging’ But more than anything else, it works through the total politicisation of the State Administrative Machinery and the Police. In this book we shall look at three of these aspects, namely : Politicisation of the Administration, Controlled Terror, and Electoral Rigging.
It is believed by many outside West Bengal that the CPI(M)’s success is due to its deep penetration into the countryside. This impression is based largely on the relentless propaganda by a fellow-travelling section of the media. We have seen what Communist propaganda can do till the mid-1980s we had been all convinced by their propaganda that the erstwhile Soviet Union was a land flowing with milk and honey, till that poor land collapsed upon itself ! This impression of CPI(M)’s penetration is true as far as it goes, but is far from being the Whole Truth. The penetration itself has been made partly by fair means but mostly by foul, and the Whole Truth consists of this penetration, plus the six elements mentioned in the foregoing. Just plain bona fide political penetration cannot get any party the kind of seats as they had managed to get in the 2003 Panchayat elections.
Today their terror, before during and after the 2003 Panchayat elections is beginning to get some attention from the other States of the country, principally because of attacks on a Central Minister and other high-profile people. It must be mentioned that this is not CPI(M)’s style they normally confine their terror, mayhem and the like to nameless, faceless, low-down, poor people deep in the countryside where such mayhem will create terror, but no waves. The high-visibility attacks have taken place probably because some decontrol has crept into their terror mechanism. This means that the local warlords of the CPI(M), having been given a very long rope by Alimuddin Street (State Party Headquarters of the CPI(M) at Kolkata), have cut that rope and started functioning independently of the Party bosses of Alimuddin. It could also be said that the principle of Democratic Centralism practised by the CPI(M) has become more democratic than central. However it is the last mentioned element namely, the politicisation of the administrative apparatus and the police which is primarily responsible for the success of the other elements, including terror and deception, and the ultimate success in staying in power. This is fundamental for the CPI(M)’s survival, but is carefully kept under wraps because it constitutes a total and flagrant violation of Government Servants’ Conduct Rules, as well as violation of something that forms one of the cornerstones of our kind of democracy. That cornerstone is called the political neutrality of permanent government servants, and this has been turned into a huge joke by the CPI(M) in West Bengal.
It could, of course, be argued that if West Bengal is all that badly off, how is it that the rest of the country has not come to know of it so far? How is it that when talking of West Bengal one hears only of the Land Reforms and Devolution of Power through Panchayati Raj, the CPI(M)’s total identification with the people ; and not about any of the terrible things mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs? The answer is that in order to know all these terrible things one has to speak Bengali and undertake a journey into the interior of rural West Bengal, and talk to affected people not something for which the average outsider would have a lot of time and inclination. Furthermore, the party aided by the fellow-travelling section of the English media has, by sheer Goebbelsian lying, created an aura around itself. On the other hand, the exposure of their atrocities takes place only through a section of the Bengali Press of Kolkata, and does not reach the rest of India. It is this information gap that accounts for the misimpression about the exploits of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, and this booklet, in its small way, tries to bridge that gap.
P O L I T I C I S A T I O N O F T H E A D M I N I S T R A T I O N A N D P O L I C E
The principal organisations through which the CPI(M) manages the politicisation process are known as “The Coordination Committee of State Government Employees’ Unions”, normally referred to simply as “Coordination Committee” and the “Non-Gazetted Police Karmachari Samity”. The two have hereafter been referred to as simply CC and NG. The latter is populated by Non-Gazetted Police Personnel of the West Bengal Police, and the former by other Non-Gazetted Employees of the Government. West Bengal has a second Police force known as the Kolkata Police whose Non-Gazetted Police Personnel have a different, smaller and less powerful organisation known as the Calcutta Police Association (CPA). The NG and CPA are, in name, Welfare Organisations and not Trade Unions, but only in name ¬ in fact sometime ago Rabin Deb, an influential MLA of the CPI(M) was heard boasting on a private TV channel that they had given Trade Union rights to the Police. The CC is an incredibly powerful frontal organisation within the CPI(M), and is political to boot. Between themselves, the CC and the NG handle the widespread and diabolically clever electoral rigging process carried out by the CPI(M). In this process they are ably guided by a section of Gazetted Officers, not only of the West Bengal Civil Service (WBCS) and other state services, but also by a solid chunk of the celebrated All-India Services, namely the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS). In return these officers receive plum postings, immunity from anti-corruption proceedings, other advantages and assignments after retirement. A case in point is Shri Ajoy Sinha, IAS (Retd.), currently the State Election Commissioner looking after the 2003 Panchayat Elections but more about him later.
It is said that before approving the posting an IAS or IPS officer as the District Magistrate or Superintendent of Police for the District, the ex-Chief Minister Jyoti Basu’s invariable query used to be “Amader kotha shunbe-tunbe to?” meaning “will this chap listen to us”?
The rigging process begins with the preparation of voters’ lists. This is handled by carefully chosen CC members. Fictitious names are added, while names of known supporters of Opposition parties are systematically deleted. Information regarding who votes which way is supplied by the Local Committees of the CPI(M). These additions and deletions can be put right by vigilance by the opposition parties after the draft electoral rolls are published. Unfortunately, the opposition parties are no match for the CPI(M)’s Mafia-like organisation, and most of this fraud goes undetected.
The extent to which the political neutrality has been compromised by government servants belonging to the CC can be made out from the following excerpts, faithfully translated from Bengali, from ‘Songrami Hatiyar’ (Weapon for Struggle), the institutional mouthpiece of the CC :
Headline on the first page, ‘Songrami Hatiyar’, August 2002 :
“Call of the State Council Meeting
• Defeat the Anti-National Policies of the Central Government
• Protect the Alternative Policies of the Left Front Government by tackling the attacks by the Central Government and the undesirable acts of the Bureaucracy.”
Editorial in the same issue, p.2 :
“ . . . . The BJP, which is the main constituent of the ruling coalition at the centre, had no share in the country’s struggle for freedom. The person now sitting on the Prime Minister’s chair had been arrested during the 1942 movement, and had got himself released by executing a bond and revealing the names of freedom fighters. After that he avoided anything to do with the freedom struggle. This party is backed by the Hindu extremist and Fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha . . . . ”.
Article by Shri Ajoy Mukherjee in the special issue (June 2002) of ‘Songrami Hatiyar’ to commemorate 25 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal, p.5 :
“As against the anti-people actions of the Central Government, the pro-people policies followed by the Left Front Government have helped the State Government Employees belonging to the middle class to distinguish friend from foe, and have played a significant part in nurturing class-friendliness with the exploited and deprived masses. . .“
Black lies as these are, any citizen of India has a right to believe in them and propagate such ideas peacefully. Such a citizen also has a right to celebrate the completion of 25 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal. The question is, can such a citizen be relied upon to conduct elections impartially? The answer must be in the negative, because election officials must not only be neutral but should also be seen to be neutral. Yet CC members are associated at every step of the election process, posing as ostensibly neutral Government Servants ; and therein lies one of the biggest frauds committed by the CPI(M) on the people of West Bengal.
The NG’s role is different. They constitute the fighting arm of the CPI(M)-affiliated State Government Servants, but because of constitutional compulsions they cannot just shoot down anti-Communists. They, therefore, discharge their duty by passivity and an attitude differential depending on whom they are being called upon to help. When CPI(M) goons beat up others they pretend nothing is happening. When it is the other way they become hyperactive. It works in different ways. Firstly, the sheer deference shown by the Officer-In-Charge (OC) of a Police Station to the Secretary of the CPI(M)’s Local Committee (LCS) is usually quite sufficient to convey to the average villager as to who stands where in the pecking order. And the deference is not without reason. The LCS can persuade NG members among the Thana forces to publicly insult or denigrate the OC ; the LCS also can get an OC transferred to an extremely inconvenient or ‘unprofitable’ post. The OC, therefore has to do the LCS’s bidding, and most of them eventually degenerate into being little more than party servants. It may incidentally be mentioned that owing to this politicisation the Police force has lost most of its professionalism, and has become, barring exceptions, a bunch of inept, lethargic, corrupt time-servers.
The proof of this is their conduct in the terrorist shootout in front of the American Centre in Kolkata in January 2002, when they could not get out a single round of ammunition, and four policemen were killed by the terrorists. Compare this with the heroism of the policemen who resisted the attack on the Parliament, or the Akshardham temple in Gujarat. It must also be remembered that there is no limit to the power of CPI(M) apparatchiks to transfer or otherwise harass police officers. As for example, Hari Sain Verma, an IPS officer with a reputation for integrity, was transferred from the post of Superintendent of Police, North 24-Parganas district because he had taken on certain unsavoury characters enjoying the protection of the CPI(M) ; he was replaced by Basudeb Bag, a promoted IPS officer who has earned the prefix ‘Comrade’ because of his activities in Bankura, described here later.
It has to be reiterated at this point that the politicisation is not confined to CC and NG members, not even to promoted officers, but reaches on to directly recruited officers of the All-India services as well. Basudeb Bag and Ajoy Sinha are just two outstanding cases of politicised bureaucrats who unashamedly toe the party line, and in return receive plum postings, post-retirement assignments and other privileges. Such officers, of course cannot afford to be bothered about bourgeois concepts such as honesty or integrity when obeying the party’s dictates, and it has generally been the experience that the closer the officer is to the CPI(M), the more crooked he gets to be. The beauty of the whole game, however, is that later the CPI(M) uses these very instances of crookedness to threaten the officer with disciplinary action if at any point of time later in his life the officer decides not to toe the party line any longer. Those among the IAS and IPS officers who cannot bring themselves around to doing all these are either shunted away to offline posts or manage to go away to the Central Government on deputation.
Another thing that the police very often do at the instance of the LCSs is to arrest activists of opposition parties on trumped-up charges, slap non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code on them and keep them in police custody for a period of time dictated by the LCS. In doing this they tailor the charges to the problems prevalent in the area. Thus, BJP workers from West Midnapore are arrested usually on charges of collaborating with the Janajuddha (Peoples’ War) group, those from North Bengal for collaborating with the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, those from the areas bordering Bangladesh for smuggling, and so on.
Yet another subterfuge very often used by the police is refusing to record a complaint when that complaint happens to be directed against the CPI(M) or any of its functionaries. This has a special significance in respect to allegations of rape, because delayed action in such cases can result in total disappearance of evidence. The State Government, when confronted with allegations of electoral or other violence, take shelter behind the fact that there is no police complaint on record. There is also the possibility of being subjected for further violence for the crime of having gone to complain to the police. This has now reached such a level that a lot of people persecuted by the CPI(M) nowadays have stopped bothering to go the Police Station they know beforehand that they will not get redress, and may even get insulted, or worse. It is true that the Criminal Procedure Code prescribes alternative remedies in cases where the Police Station refuses to record a complaint – but these are mostly beyond the knowledge, means and capacity of the poor villager. A typical case is that of Abu Selim, the OC of Ketugram PS, a remote place in District Bardhaman. Sm. Banani Majhi, Trinamool Congress’s candidate for the State Assembly elections in 2001 for the Ketugram seat went to complain to him of CPI(M)’s interference in her campaign. Selim told her that the next time she came to the Police station with a complaint against the CPI(M), he will strip her naked and parade her in public view. It must be remembered that these police-supported atrocities are usually not committed in urban areas, least of all Kolkata, because that creates more trouble than terror. There are exceptions, of course, like the Ananda Margi massacre, described here later. On the other hand in the countryside, where the people look upon the police as Mai-baap, the very partiality exhibited by the police, representing the state, establishes the superiority of the CPI(M) in the public eye.
It should be noted that the CPI(M)’s scheme of politicisation does not end with the Police and the Administration. Far from it. There is no walk of life, ranging from universities to rickshaw-pullers, in West Bengal where the CPI(M) has not reached its tentacles through its many frontal organisations. In this book however, we shall confine ourselves only to terror, violence and election-related fraud.
The familiar terror of the CPI(M) found new ways of expression in the West Bengal Panchayat elections of 2003. In regard to the pre-poll actions to be taken, the party decided that, in view of the Trinamool Congress and the BJP joining hands to form a firm alliance (and thus preventing the splitting of anti-CPI(M) votes), facing elections was itself a grave risk which could not be run without sufficient safeguards. Already the position was grave the party’s vote share had been steadily dwindling from 1988 to 1998. The party therefore decided that they will ensure uncontested election of a sufficient number of candidates. This would achieve two objectives in one go. On the one hand the uncontested wins would be a direct gain. On the other hand, the terror required to ensure the uncontested wins would spread the message far and wide that there is no way you can take on the CPI(M), and would lower the morale of the opposition further. The extent to which this had been carried out, and the number of uncontested wins that the CPI(M) managed to get, have been mentioned at the very beginning of this book.
The next chapter is dedicated to description of this terror. But before that, the strange case of Ajoy Sinha, an ex-officer of the venerable Indian Administrative Service, supposedly the steel frame of the administration in India, State Election Commissioner of West Bengal in charge of the Panchayat Elections of 2003, must be discussed very briefly. For Ajoy Sinha represents the archetype of what Indira Gandhi called a ‘committed Civil Servant’, and in managing or failing to manage the elections, he proved himself to be more loyal than the king in regard to the CPI(M).
Ajoy Sinha’s conduct before, during and after the Panchayat Elections of 2003 caused many eyebrows to rise. In spite of reports pouring in through the media, not once did Sinha consider it necessary to make a trip to any of the affected areas. He said he was satisfied with the reports he received from the District Magistrates, which he did not even cross-question, nor ask for any additional information. It is estimated that an unprecedented number of eighty-two people died in the wake of these elections (the tally upto Election day was already 47). The Ananda Bazar Patrika, the Bengali daily with a Nine-lakh plus circulation screamed in 3.5 cm-tall letters in its main Headline on 12th May 2003 : “GRAM BANGLAY ROKTOSNAN” (RURAL BENGAL BATHES IN BLOOD). In the same issue, another, smaller Headline lower down on the first page said : “VOTE SHANTIPURNO, BOLLEN NIRBIKAR COMMISSIONER” (ELECTION PEACEFUL, SAYS AN UNFAZED COMMISSIONER). It must, incidentally, be observed at this stage that the District Magistrates who gave ‘peaceful’ reports to Sinha are just as guilty as him in trying to misrepresent the situation for the benefit of the party.
Further on, the news reads : the reporter asks Sinha “The Opposition parties had gathered quite some strength in the Khanakul, Goghat and Arambagh areas of Hooghly, Kespur, Pingla and Garbeta of West Midnapore and Sihor area of Bankura districts. Yet in these areas the opposition parties could not field any candidates at all. The Congress was hounded out of North Dinajpur district, following which there has been peaceful polling in the district. In the last few elections these areas had seen the highest incidence of repolling. As many as 20 people have died on election day. Don’t you think all this is rather extraordinary”? The Commissioner retorts “The Police have reported only 11 deaths. This is not a large number. Whatever you say, I would say that the polling in the state has been peaceful”.
Asked to comment on the Commissioner’s conduct, Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee reportedly said “He is a pervert. Otherwise no one can call any poll peaceful after 20 people have died”. Trinamool Congress Chairperson Sm. Mamata Banerjee said “I have all along been saying that he is a person of unsound mind, unfit to run the election process”. It is had on very good authority that Shri Sinha was under active investigation by the State Vigilance Commission for various offences which included profligacy and excessive consumption of alcohol in which his own father is said to have testified against him. Also please see Balai Chandra Chakrabarti’s comments on the man later in this book.
All these investigations have been mysteriously hushed up, and the officer under investigation seated in a chair where he is not only required to be a person of integrity and impartiality, but manifestly seen to be so. The CPI(M) are to be congratulated for having discovered such an officer and for the impunity of seating him on that chair in order to steer the election in their favour. And all members and ex-members of the venerable Indian Administrative Service ought to hang their heads in shame for having in their midst someone called Shri Ajoy Sinha.
T E R R O R , M A Y H E M A N D R A P E
For the West Bengal Panchayat elections of 2003, the CPI(M) chose the area around the Tri-junction of the districts of Hooghly, West Midnapore and Bankura as the zone from which they will uproot all opposition candidates, and get their candidates to return uncontested or through a sham contest. This area, which is known to the peace-loving world as the home of the sage Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (Swami Vivekananda’s guru) and the holy mother Sarada Devi, has now become notorious because of the rule of CPI(M) goons. A large number of Panchayats in this area had been captured by the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in the 1998 elections, and the CPI(M) was determined not to let any part of the state go that way. The way to do it was to spread terror. This process of terrorising started in 1999, and in about one years’ time all supporters of the BJP and the Trinamool Congress had been exiled out of their homes, and are still in exile. The Panchayat members were told to change sides. Most of them complied and hurriedly became all CPI(M).
Needless to say, the police took a completely partisan role, and pretended that nothing had happened. Their stock reply was “every specific reported case will be investigated” which is very convenient, because an essential article of the terror was that no one shall report anything to the Police Station. In fact there were reports (which cannot, of course, be proved) that Basudeb Bag, a promoted IPS officer of whom mention has been made earlier, the Superintendent of Police of Bankura district took an active part in the rout of the BJP and Trinamool, and directed dacoits from a village called Baital in Bankura to attack BJP and Trinamool workers in Hooghly and Midnapore.
West Midnapore was one of the worst affected districts. The affected blocks in this district were the following : Garbeta – I, Garbeta – II ( part ), Garbeta – III( part ), Salbani, Keshpur, Chandrakona – I, Chandrakona--II( part ), Debra ( part ), Pingla, Sabong ( part ), Dantan – II, Jambani. This time the disturbances spread beyond the tri-junction area. From April 4, 2003, CPI(M) goons armed with muskets, revolvers, pipeguns and other lethal weapons staged motorcycle rallies and began moving around villages in the area, threatening TMC & BJP workers not to file nominations, and occasionally beating them up
Examples : Madan Shee, BJP member of Panchayat Samity, Pingla Block of Vill- Dongalsha was told that if he files a nomination he will be fined Rs. 200,000/-; and if this is reported to the police than he will be buried alive in a beel (swamp). Biswanath Panja a Gram Panchayat member and Dilip Pal, a BJP worker of Garbeta town were beaten up right in front of Garbeta Thana. There are literally hundreds of such cases involving Trinamool and BJP members. Harekrishna Nayak, LCS of the CPI(M) at Chandrakona maintains a private army consisting of Ilias, Sahajuddin, Jalal, Mostaqim, Delwar (all of villages Inda/Krishnapur under Chandrakona P.S.). All of these are known dacoits, fugitives from justice and history-sheeters and their pictures are available in Local Thanas. However Harekrishna Nayak openly moves about with these men in tow carrying firearms. He has forced Subrata Mishra, BJP ex-Vice-chairman of Panchayat Samity, Chandrakona – II to resign and work as a bearer in the same Samity.
After the 1999 Elections Sushanta Ghosh of Garbeta, a Minister of State in Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya’s cabinet, had been found openly gun-running in a Government vehicle. The matter had received wide publicity. The CPI(M) however denied the whole incident with impunity. Sushanta Ghosh still continues as a minister, while the morale of the public and political workers of other parties has touched bottom.
As a result there is today no way for any TMC or BJP candidate to file their nomination in any of these blocks. Even the basic political process of visiting the villages is not possible, because no one will give even a glass of water, let alone sleeping quarters, to any visiting TMC or BJP leader. If anyone does so, his or her house will be looted the next day and he or she will be charged an astronomical sum as fine. The situation is one of total helplessness for all non-CPI(M) parties. As a result of the above the BJP District Committee of Midnapore had resolved not to field any Candidates in any of these blocks.
In the district of Hooghly, the position had become unspeakable even a month before the elections. At Khanakul, Hooghly, a woman and her daughter, both of whom would like to remain unnamed, had been stripped naked and paraded in public because she had dared to file her nomination. The women’s son who is an active worker of the BJP, was forced to watch the act of his mother and sister being stripped, and was practically out of his mind. Prasenjit Bag, a BJP worker of Jangipara was allowed to deposit his money for filing his nomination. His nomination papers were then snatched away, and he was beaten up mercilessly by CPI(M) goons. He had to undergo long treatment at Walsh hospital, Serampore. In this district the most affected blocks were : Arambagh, Goghat, Khanakul, Pursura and Jangipara.
It is of interest to note that practising these terror techniques begins quite early, while the future Comrades are still working in their Students’ Union front. Most students’ unions in the state are run by the CPI(M)’s frontal organisation Students’ Federation of India (SFI), who can teach a thing or two to their elders in the main party in regard to terror for winning an election. Sunanda Sanyal, a noted Educationist of West Bengal, has made a deep study of their methods. An excerpt from a two-part article by him, published in “The Statesman” of 22nd and 23rd May, 2003:
“The CPI(M) catches the operators of its “election machinery” young. Recall some of the recent students’ union elections, of which this year’s Panchayat election is practically a re-run. The Students’ Federation of India, like all the outfits of its parent body, the CPI(M), has a flair for winning elections uncontested. The Trinamool Chhatra Parishad held the Garbeta College union during 1999-2000. Yet they did not contest the December 2000 election, having been threatened with dire consequences if they did.
Expectedly, the SFI’s explanation was that Trinamool had to opt out to avoid a crushing defeat. A Trinamool student, Alfazuddin, was abducted. Having thus won the election, the SFI students rushed out to ransack the BJP party office. Similarly, Chandrakona College, Medinipur, witnessed the SFI students snatch away five ballot boxes and tear up the contents. They lost the election all the same .
Before the Basirhat College union election the goons brought in by the SFI told the sitting president, Mithun Ghosh, to stay off the campus till the election was over. Mithun asked why, and was shot at. The bullet grazed his forehead. The goon fired a second shot, but the revolver didn’t go off. He then hit Mithun on the head with the butt. Mithun fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. The newsmen found the SFI supporters shouting slogans thereafter. In December 2002 again, at Pakuahat College, Malda, a scuffle ensued as a girl was all but stripped, while she was trying to submit her nomination paper on behalf of the Congress party-affiliated Chhatra Parishad. She was taken round the campus in her undress. The Congress leader Ghani Khan Chowdhury, accompanied by his sister Ruby Noor, met the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police to demand punishment for the CPI-M musclemen. The SFI leaders claimed that the whole incident had been trumped up to malign the SFI”. .
It appears that the CPI(M) had, in choosing among the different forms of terror required to win the 2003 Panchayat elections, has also experimented with rape. After all, the CPI(M) is an avowedly Stalinist party, and Stalin’s Terror Chief, the infamous Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria, is said to have indulged in similar experimentation, often on a hands-on basis. He is also believed to have said that in order to spread terror very few things are as effective as rape. At any rate, it is a fact that incidents of politically-connected rape, especially gang-rape, had suddenly registered a major upswing in the state. Representative cases are described below.
A case of a gang rape of seven minor girls after dragging them into a madrasah, was serious enough to merit a visit from the National Commission for Women and from a Parliamentary team of the BJP. The girls involved were Tuntun Ghosh (18) d/o Netai Ghosh of Homaniapota P.S. Dhantala, Dist. Nadia, Jumpa @ Tumpa Ghosh (16) d/o Subol Ghosh of Majdia P.S. Ranaghat, Rishika Ghosh (14.) d/o Late Biswanath Ghosh of Khargachi P.S. Chakdah, Dist Nadia, China Ghosh (22) d/o Kalipada Ghosh, Pinki Ghosh (12) d/o Sambhu Ghosh, Polly Ghosh (16) d/o Sunil Ghosh, Mamuni Ghosh (12) d/o Sunil Ghosh, all of Kuchiamari, Dist North 24-Parganas. All of them belonged to a baraat party which was returning from the groom’s house after the wedding. The incident which took place on 5th February 2003 at village Aishmali, P.S. Dhantola, district Nadia, just a few kilometers away from the Indo-Bangla border, was said to be a result of an internecine quarrel of the CPI(M). The CPI(M) had tried to suppress this incident and pass it off as a case of molestation. Meanwhile Dr. Chandan Sen, the doctor who had examined the rape victims was found murdered after a few days. The Chief Rapist, if such a term exists, was a man called Sahidul Karigar, a member of the CPI(M)’s Local Committee of Aishmali, and the rest of the gang belonged to one Hatim Sultan ; and the rape was said to have been organised by one Subol Bagchi, the Secretary of another Local Committee of the CPI(M) whose objective behind the rape was to get even with one Sanat Dhali, yet another CPI(M) activist, whose baraat party was going in the bus. However, as luck would have it, there happened to be another unrelated baraat bus also traveling along with Sanat Dhali’s party. The organizers of this second baraat had nothing to do with politics at all, but it is the women in this second bus who were raped. The National Commission for Women, in its report on the case has made a number of recommendations none of which have been followed up by the state so far. According to their report the rape had given rise to a lot of communal tension in the area, since all the victims were young Hindu girls, while the rapists were all Muslim. Meanwhile the State Commission for Women, a body stacked with CPI(M) activists, came in for scathing criticism for the role they played in trying to hush up the incident. Sunanda Sanyal, a noted educationist, has termed the State Commission as “practically an extension counter of CPI(M)’s Alimuddin Street office”.
A second case of politically connected gang-rape, also related to a bridal party, also investigated by the National Commission for Women, took place in the terror-infested District of West Midnapore on the night of 25/26 April, 2003. In this case the party was of the Kanya-yatris, from the family of one Shri Mohan Ahir, of village Omrapota, P.S.Goaltor, District Pashchim Midnapore, returning from the boubhat function in the bridegroom’s house at Chandrakona Road to their own village. On the way they were waylaid by a gang who separated the five minor girls from the rest. They were Mamoni Murmu (age 15, ST), d/o Pitambar Murmu, Patan @ Jayanti Ahir (age 12), d/o Mohan Ahir, Kalyani Ahir (age 14), d/o Bharat Ahir, Giri Ahir (age 11), d/o Dilip Ahir, and Champa Ahir (age 14), d/o Madan Ahir. They assailants then took the girls to a nearby jungle, from which they emerged several hours later, crying their hearts out. Initially the police even refused to admit any dacoity or molestation, let alone rape. However, owing to subsequent pressure from various quarters, including a BJP team led by Shri Anindya Gopal Mitra, they arrested four persons : Haidar Mandal s/o Lokman, Abdul Salam Mandal s/o Sattar, Mobarak Khan s/o Jainuddin, Ainuddin Khan s/o Maruat and Azizul s/o Halim, all of Maharajpur village. All these are known to be henchmen of one Mansur Ali, a CPI(M) activist of the same village.
This case has also been investigated by the National Commission for Women, again at the request of the state BJP. This investigation revealed, among other things, that the doctor in charge of the Primary Health Centre at Goaltor, where the girls had first been examined, had hurriedly certified that there was no evidence of rape. However, subsequently the girls were reexamined at Sadar Hospital, Midnapore. Here, Dr. D.Maji, Superintendent, and Dr. S.K.Hatui, Gynaecologist both stated that rape could not be ruled out, and further observed that the doctor at the Primary Health Centre at Goaltor should not have said so hurriedly that there was no evidence of rape.
The third case of rape during this period was reported from village Ghoksadanga in Cooch Behar district in late April 2003, where a woman worker of the CPI(M) was raped by her own party leader Samiruddin alias Kalsa Mian. The most interesting feature of this rape is that party Supremo Anil Biswas tried to cover it up by saying that the woman was of loose morals. A notorious case of gang-rape had occurred in ?????, in which the victims were all destitute women living near Birati station, very close to the Kolkata Airport. Here also the same excuse was peddled by CPI(M) women’s leader Smt. Shyamali Gupta who said that the women were of bad character. More about this Shyamali Gupta later in this chapter.
“The Telegraph” a leading daily of Kolkata, published the story of a fourth political rape by the CPI(M), so telling that it deserves to be reproduced in full. It is to be remembered that this was after the elections, a retribution for the victim’s husband having been a BJP activist :
“Poll rape cloud on CPM : Budbud (Burdwan), May 24: Three days after a tribal woman was raped allegedly for not voting for the CPM in the Panchayat polls, a complaint was lodged with the police today. But it was only after the victim approached the additional district magistrate and submitted a memorandum to him that an FIR was lodged. When the victim, along with BJP activists, went to the police station this morning to lodge an FIR against Zakir Hussain — brother of Manurul Islam, the newly-elected CPM panchayat member — and Sheikh Kibria, police reportedly refused to accept a complaint. “The police here made our supporters sit from 8 am to 5 pm without taking the complaint and constantly urged them to mutually settle their grievances. It was after we approached the additional district magistrate and handed over a memorandum to him that the police took in the FIR and sent the victim for a medical examination to the Bidhannagar hospital in Durgapur,” district BJP president Naresh Konar said.
Burdwan superintendent of police B.N. Ramesh, however, said he was not aware of the incident. (Note : B.N.Ramesh, IPS, had been lately investigated for misusing a Railway Pass, but the case was hushed up ; very similar to Ajoy Sinha’s case). None of the two accused have been arrested yet. Sitting at the CPM office here, the party’s Galsi zonal committee member Pratul Chandra Roy said the gram panchayat was held by the Opposition till the present elections. “Whoever is linked with this incident should be booked and punished, there is no question of pardon, whatever their political affiliation,” Roy said. He denied that the accused were CPM members. At the hospital, the victim said that local CPM leaders had been threatening the tribals to vote for them or face the consequences.
“Hussain told me to vote for his brother and last Tuesday night, both he and Kibria forced themselves on me. Later, when my people protested, the CPM leaders told me to remain silent as it would tarnish my reputation and my husband, who worked in Hussain’s rice mill, would lose his job,” the victim alleged. “We have been BJP supporters, all the 20 tribal families in the village. On Tuesday night, Hussain told me to go to the rice mill and work, then he and the other man forcibly entered our mud hut and raped my wife. When she raised an alarm they fled,” the victim’s husband, Kamal Hansda, said.
Another village tribal, Sambhu Murmu, alleged that after the incident, local CPM leader Sheikh Siraj urged them not to go to the police. “There were repeated sittings at the village-level and even the officer-in-charge of the police station, Nazrul Islam, was present, but the offenders were not present on any occasion. The leaders then told us to do whatever we felt like,” Murmu added”.
One characteristic of the reaction of the Police upon receiving these reports of rape, is quite clear. In each and every case the Police have tried to deny that there was any rape, tried not to register the complaint, and generally acted very obstructive in regard to discharge of their duties. The reason for this can only be a deliberate attempt to waste as much time as possible before registering the complaint, so that medical examination of the victim is delayed, and rape becomes difficult to prove. In the Goaltor case the doctor at the primary health centre had also attempted to suppress the rape.
In 1998, following the Panchayat elections held in that year, a poor woman called Champala Sardar was gang-raped in a village under P.S. Bhangar, district South 24-Parganas. This was in retaliation of her having supported the Trinamool Congress in the election. In her case the police managed to delay the medical examination by about a week, and this delay made it impossible to prove later in court that there had been any rape at all. All the rape-accused were acquitted, and the pro-Left daily Aajkal of Kolkata gloated over the acquittal. Who knows whether the rape victims of Aishmali, Goaltor and Budbud will receive justice or not?
Two cases of political terror involving sexual torture to women, but not related the Panchayat election should also be mentioned. The first was reported in “The Statesman“ of Kolkata, a very conservative newspaper. The paper mentioned in its second leader of 12th April 2003 the case of Pushpa Rani Patra of vill. Bhagabanpur, East Midnapore district. Pushpa Rani, a nurse in a Health Centre was tied to a tree, stripped nearly naked and her body was slashed with razors. Her genitals were also pierced with pins. The strange thing is that Pushpa Rani is a member of CPI(M) controlled CC. Her fault was that she had refused to part with a portion of her household land which the party had wanted supposedly for a public road, and had gone to Court. The CPI(M) then accused Pushpa Rani of being a woman of easy virtue and hobnobbing with anti-socials, and meted out the punishment described above.
On 14th June 2003 both the Ananda Bazar Patrika and Songbad Pratidin, another premier Bengali daily of Kolkata, reported a case of sexual torture of a woman called Rekha Mandal of village Khairtala, P.S. Manikchak, district Malda by a Police Officer of the same Police Station who was not named. It was reported that the Officer had first hit her on the head with a torch, then beat her with a stick, and finally lifted her sari and inserted the end of his baton into her vagina and turned it around, threatening to rape her. Smt. Sabitri Mitra, the local MLA was insulted when she went to lodge a complaint against the officer at Manikchak Police Station.
The case of gang-rape of destitute women in Birati in ?????, and CPI(M) leader Smt. Shyamali Gupta’s defence that the women were of bad character, has been mentioned earlier. A few words about Shyamali Gupta herself would be in order here. The selfsame Smt. Gupta had been subsequently named and suspended by her party for her association with one Rashid Khan, a bookie. Rashid Khan had shot to notoriety in 1993 after his house, situated less than half-a-kilometre from the Kolkata Police Headquarters at Lalbazar, blew up killing several people, including some of his sons. The house was being used as a storehouse for bombs, right under the noses of all the bigwigs of the Kolkata Police. The relevance of this incident to this chapter lies in the report that Rashid Khan was involved not only in bookmaking but also in trafficking in women. Apart from Shyamali Gupta, Rashid Khan was said to be very close to the late Lakshmi Dey, a leader of the CPI(M)’s Kolkata District Committee. Rashid Khan is now behind the bars. Shyamali Gupta has been rehabilitated by her party.
If one were to describe all the incidents of terrorizing that had taken place in the state, election-related or otherwise, one would end up writing an Encyclopaedia. This sordid chapter may therefore be wrapped up by reproducing some of the Headlines appearing in the dailies of Kolkata during the runup to the Panchayat elections of 2003. It may be noted that the Election was over on 11th May, but the violence did not abate.
CPI(M) TERROR ON THE LAST DAY PREVENTS MANY FROM FILING NOMINATIONS – Bartaman 17th April 2003
FRONT POCKETS ALL SEATS IN ARAMBAGH – Hindustan Times, Kolkata 17th April 2003.
THE CPI(M) IS THREATENING CANDIDATES FROM HOUSE OF HOUSE IN ORDER TO GET THEM TO WITHDRAW THEIR NOMINATIONS – Bartaman 18th April, 2003
WOMAN CANDIDATE OF BJP CONFINED BY THE CPI(M) - Bartaman 19th April 2003
RSP CANDIDATE KIDNAPPED BY CPI(M) - do
THREATS, VIOLENCE AND KIDNAPPING IN ORDER TO FORCE CANDIDATES TO WITHDRAW – Ananda Bazar Patrika 22nd April 2003
FIVE BLOCKS IN ARAMBAGH TAKEN OVER BY CPI(M) WITHOUT CONTEST – Ananda Bazar Partika 23rd April 2003
TRINAMOOL WORKER HACKED TO DEATH IN GANGAJALGHATI – Ananda Bazar Patrika 26th April 2003
BISWANATH CHOUDHURY’S MEETING RANSACKED, RESENTMENT IN FRONT, RSP WARNS CPI(M) - Ananda Bazar Patrika 27th April 2003
FOUR CONGRESSMEN KILLED, CHOPRA RED WITH BLOOD - Ananda Bazar Patrika 3rd May 2003
CHOPRA IS A BURNING GHAT, VIOLENCE SPREADS TO ISLAMPUR, TEN INJURED - Ananda Bazar Patrika 5th May 2003
STATE PWD MINISTER UNDER ARMED ATTACK BY CPI(M) - Ananda Bazar Patrika 8th May 2003
SHELTER A MINISTER AND FACE CPI(M) WRATH - The Statesman 9th May 2003
CONGRESS LEADER KILLED IN KONNAGAR – FOUR FALL PREY TO TERROR IN STATE – Sangbad Pratidin, 9th May, 2003
RURAL BENGAL BATHES IN BLOOD, VIOLENCE REACHES ITS PEAK IN PANCHAYAT ELECTIONS, 20 DIE – Ananda Bazar Patrika 12th May 2003
BULLETS AND BOMBS KILL 13 IN MURSHIDABAD, 300 INJURED, BALLOT BOXES LOOTED -- do
BULLETS AND BOMB KILL TRINAMOOL CANDIDATE’S FATHER -- do
KILL, SNATCH AND CAPTURE . . . TO KEEP THE RED FORT INTACT -- The Statesman 12th May 2003
MAYHEM ALL OVER STATE WINNING CANDIDATE OF FORWARD BLOC KILLED, FINGER POINTED AT CPI(M) -- Ananda Bazar Patrika 17th May 2003
SKIRMISH BETWEEN POLICE AND TRINAMOOL-BJP, LATHICHARGE, FIRING, TEAR GAS AT BAGDA -- Bartaman 18th May 2003
BUDDHA ADMITS TO CRIMINALS IN THE PARTY -- The Statesman 20th May 2003
Now there is a bit of history to be gone into. It requires to be emphasized that CPI(M) did not indulge in terrorizing all of a sudden before the Panchayat Elections of 2003. Their first major exercise was probably the Sain Bari murders that took place as far back as on 17th March 1970 at Bardhaman town, and this one needs to be recounted in full because it was in the nature of a watershed in the politics of West Bengal.
Sain Bari means house of the Sain family, who were all diehard Congress supporters. Of them two brothers, Moloy and Pranab Sain were regular Congress activists. At the time of the incident West Bengal was under the rule of the short-lived United Front ministry of Ajoy Mukherjee, in which Jyoti Basu was the Home Minister. There apparently had some kind of quarrel between the brothers and the CPI(M) a few days prior to the incident regarding some procession. Then, on the day of the incident, a procession of tribals owing allegiance to the CPI(M), and carrying lethal weapons like tangi, ballam (spear) etc. suddenly changed route and stormed the Sain family house. The two brothers had just sat down to lunch. They were hacked to pieces, and their blood was thrown on their mother who was serving them lunch. It is said by some that the assailants had made balls of rice with the brothers’ blood and tried to feed it to their mother.
The police, it is reported, just watched impassively. The murderous mob just walked out of the Sain home that had now become a slaughterhouse. The young IAS officer who was the District Magistrate at the time, and later on rose to be the Chief Secretary of the state, was not very far off, but chose to take no action. A few days later another Congress activist called Gunamoni Roy, a close friend of the Sain brothers, was also hacked to death. The CPI(M) did not disown the incidents. Their agricultural front leader Harekrishna Konar said that whoever tries to mess with a CPI(M) procession will share the fate of the Sain brothers. In 1972 the Congress came to power in West Bengal and arrested and prosecuted the assailants. No conviction, however, was possible till 1977 when Congress lost power and the CPI(M)-led Left Front came in. The new government then withdrew the case, and the Congress did nothing about it.
The Sain Bari murders have been called a watershed, because through these the CPI(M) effectively demolished the long-established concept of ‘Rule of Law’, and substituted it by ‘Rule of Party’ in West Bengal. The bureaucracy learnt their lesson quickly, and proceeded to toe the line, though few did it as abjectly as in the case of Ajoy Sinha mentioned earlier.
Since then terror has continued to be a keynote of CPI(M)’s twenty-six years of rule. It should however be remembered that CPI(M)’s terror is not mindless, wanton terror like that of the Naxalites or the Lashkar-e-Toiba. It is carefully calculated and controlled, and applied in measured doses. No more terror is brought to bear on a person or group of persons than is strictly necessary. When commercial or financial terror such as making it impossible for a person to get labour for harvesting, or to get a truck to carry one’s produce to the market is sufficient, physical terror is not administered. Even when commercial terror cannot do the trick, one is not immediately beaten up. One is taken to the party office, where some Local Committee member tells one that one does not stand a chance against the might of the party. So one better fall in line – or else! In fact the pressure gets to the stage of physical manhandling only in the cases of particularly obstinate characters. All that is required of one is that one should obey what the party says why should not one do so? In the process if Rule of Law is given a go-by, if minds get warped, if the very sense of right and wrong gets distorted, then so be it these are all petits-bourgeois concepts, and the sooner they go, the better. Law in a Marxist-Leninist State is not the same as what it is in a bourgeois state. Law in a Marxist-Leninist state is supposed to be essentially the handmaiden of revolution, closely guided by the Communist Party. Of course, if one is thinking of bourgeois pleasures like exercising the liberty of the individual, or living with dignity, one can forget about it.
These rules are applicable in villages, less so in small towns, lesser so in district towns and the like, and practically not at all in Kolkata. However, the rules change at election time. Elections are all about staying in power, therefore elections are everything. The CPI(M)’s reason for existence is winning the next election, not administering the country between two elections. Therefore, in order to win an election, murders (no more than strictly necessary, but one can’t be too finicky about these things) are permissible. However, some murders take place in Kolkata also, and at times other than those of elections, and these gain publicity. Such a case was that of the torching alive of the Ananda Margi Sadhus (Monks) and Sanyasin (nun).
The reason behind the Ananda Margi murders is not clear. Probably it had something to do with the Margi’s real estate which certain CPI(M) leaders coveted.. The Ananda Margis are a Hindu sect founded by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, later named Ananda Murtiji, and had a sizeable presence in Purulia and the adjoining parts of Bihar (now Jharkhand). However, their world Headquarters were and still are in a place called Tiljala, which is one of the outermost Eastern suburbs of Kolkata. On 30th April 1982 a group of Sadhus including one Sanyasin of this sect alighted at Howrah station and took two taxis and ordered them to go to Tiljala.
They were never to reach Tiljala. A mob of CPI(M) goons under the leadership of Sachin Sen, the local MLA, were lying in wait for them on Bijan Setu, a bridge over which the Rashbehari Connector Road crosses the Sealdah South section railway tracks, just north of Ballygunge Railway station. As soon as the taxis reached the place the mob surrounded the taxis, dragged the Ananda Margis out, doused them in kerosene and set them on fire. The sixteen Sadhus and one Sanyasin sizzled there alive, in broad daylight, with the CPI(M) goons with the Police looking on. Not a single person has been so far prosecuted in this case. Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister explained away the killing as an ‘expression of popular outburst’.
Among the other significant cases of CPI(M) terror that Metropolitan Kolkata has seen, special mention must be made of the murder of Police officers Vinod Mehta, Gangadhar Bhattacharyya, Vinod Mehta’s bodyguard Mokhtar Ali, and a suspect in their murder, one Idris Mian. Gangadhar Bhattacharyya was the Officer-in-Charge of the same Tiljala Police Station. He was shot at point blank range inside his own Police Station where a local leader of the CPI(M), who is currently a Minister in Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya’s cabinet was present, and was carrying a gun. And would you believe it? in respect of this murder of an Officer-in-Charge, in broad daylight, inside his own Police Station, nobody has so far been punished!
Vinod Mehta’s murder on 16th March 1984 is as interesting as it is gruesome. Vinod Mehta, a young IPS officer of unimpeachable integrity and zest for work, was at that time posted as Deputy Commissioner in charge of Port Police. Ports all over the world generate their own kind of crime, relating mostly to smuggling and pilferage, and Kolkata is no exception. Moreover, the area to the west of the Port, known as Garden Reach, is Industrial in nature, very thickly populated and crisscrossed by labyrinthine lanes and bylanes ideal for the growth of crime. The population in this area consists mostly of Urdu-speaking Muslims of Bihari origin. Certain parts of this area, such as Lichubagan bustee, had seen some of the ghastliest mass murders during the Great Calcutta Killings (also known as ‘Direct Action’ in support of the demand for Pakistan) unleashed by Premier Suhrawardy on 16th August 1946.
Mehta had ordered firing on a riotous mob sometime before this incident, as a result of which there were some deaths, all of the minority community. After that the Urdu press of Kolkata started a venomous campaign against him, calling him communal and anti-Muslim, and baying for his blood. On a fateful afternoon Mehta, who was inclined to lead from the front, had been chasing some criminals in the Garden Reach area with his force. He was made to run after some decoys and enter the labyrinthine lanes. Suddenly he found that the force that was accompanying him had mysteriously fallen behind, and were nowhere to be seen. Instead there were criminals ahead of him and behind him, with no one other than his bodyguard Mokhtar Ali with him. Mehta fought bravely but was overpowered in no time. He and Ali were then mercilessly butchered. The particular area where it all happened is inhabited by butchers, and it could be said that they did a professional job on Mehta and Ali. The next day the Police took into custody a suspect called Idris Mian who died during the subsequent interrogation. The Police maintain that he had a heart attack, popular perception has it that it was the Police’s third degree that killed him. Very much like Lee Harvey Oswald being shot dead after President Kennedy’s assassination the person who could throw most light on the murder is bumped off.
In addition to Idris Mian, however, one prominent Minister of one of the Left Front parties (not the CPI(M)) found his name splashed all over the newspapers in connection with Mehta’s murder. The minister belongs to the community that populates Garden Reach and has been described as an ‘unsavoury character’. His complicity in the murders has never been proved, just as the complicity of any leader of the CPI(M) has not been proved in any of the murders that the CPI(M) has committed.
The Sain Bari murders, the Ananda Margi massacre, the murder of Vinod Mehta and Mokhtar Ali, were however, not election-specific, but were directed generally at establishing CPI(M)’s hegemony and removing anyone who came in the way. Serious cases of election-specific violence possibly started in 1988 when, after the elections, in village Kandua, P.S. Amta, district Howrah, CPI(M) goons under the leadership of one Gopinath Khamrui, hacked to death Gopal Patra and chopped off both the forearms of Ramu Dhara, Keshab, Ghanteswar Bag and Champa Patra from the elbow downwards, for having voted for the ‘hand’ (Congress). The matter was widely reported, but the owners of the ‘Hand’, the Congress, did nothing at all about it. Then, in 1990, on the day of elections to Calcutta Municipal Corporation, armed goons were found patrolling parts of central and south Calcutta, and locking gates of multistoreyed buildings from outside. The goons were even photographed brandishing handguns and in the act of locking the gates. The CPI(M) was brazen about it, and did not bat an eyelid. “We are proud of our cadres” said CPI(M)’s transport minister Shyamal Chakraborty.
Immediately after the Panchayat elections news reached the state BJP office that the CPI(M) had begun wanton destruction of BJP supporters’ property in an area of the South 24-Parganas district under Baruipur and Canning Police Stations. A team of the state BJP led by the state President visited the location on May 25. The area is known as Belegachhi, and the specific locations are known as Harendrapalli and Ramkrishnapalli. The area is inhabited by extremely poor people belonging to the Scheduled Castes who are moreover, fugitives from Islamic persecution in Bangladesh. Having fled and found refuge here they were to discover that their travails were not over. Their fault earlier had been that they were Hindus, now their fault was that they voted for the BJP. To teach them a lesson, the local CPI(M) goons damaged their houses, thatched cottages with bamboo-matting walls. Manoranjan Mandal and his wife, a helpless elderly couple, were found crying at the site that had once been their home in Ramkrishnapalli. There was nothing, absolutely nothing left of that home. Even the few coconuts that had grown on the single tree that they possessed had been swiped by the marauders.
In the 2003 elections the BJP won two Zilla Parishad seats, of which one was from the Purbasthali area of Bardhaman district. One of the activists of the BJP in this area was Satya Modak, who had left the CPI(M) to join the BJP, and had worked very hard in the elections. The CPI(M) nursed a special grudge against him for this act of apostasy. On the night of 14/15 May 2003, while Satya was guarding a mango grove, some CPI(M) goons came, tied him to a lamppost and set him on fire alive. They then sprinkled a lot of liquor on his face and spread the story that Satya had died in a drunken brawl. A similar case of setting a BJP worker on fire alive had occurred in March 2003 in village and P.S. Bhatar, district Bardhaman when Naranarayan Naskar, the local BJP block president, had been similarly tied to a lamppost and set on fire alive.
There is no end to the stories of the reign of terror that pervades West Bengal today. “The Statesman” of 12th April 2002 reported the case of Dulal Banerjee. Dulal, a a Belgharia-Dum Dum (suburbs of Kolkata) zonal committee member of the CPI(M), and his henchmen Kele Goopi and Pocha, together with a murderous mob, lynched two youths, Chandan Chakraborty and Sanjoy Goswami in front of the local CPI(M) office. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya evaded questions on the arrest. “Ask the police commissioner” he said when asked to comment. The state transport and sports minister, Mr Subhas Chakraborty, known to be the mentor of Dulal, met the chief minister this morning, but declined comment on the arrest. “It is none of my business, so why should I concern myself with it” he shot back when asked about it. The CPI(M) cadre went berserk as news of Dulal’s arrest spread. They squatted on tracks affecting train services in the Sealdah-Ranaghat, Sealdah-Dankuni and Sealdah-Bongaon sections. CITU activists joined them soon after and disrupted Metro rail services. The Police said Dulal had cases registered with the Railway Protection Force and the Government Railway Police and had been charged under sections 506/34/201/363 of the Indian Penal Code. The Officer-in-Charge of Cossipore Police Station Mr A.K. Jana, told The Statesman: “Dulal’s involvement in the murder of the two youths is proved. Moreover, he was instrumental in running several rackets”. Mr Soumen Mitra, Deputy Commissioner (Detective Department) of Kolkata Police said Dulal targeted the two youths as they tried to “poke their noses in his business affairs”. The case is now under trial.
Narayan Biswas, a Minister of State in Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya’s government had been not only prosecuted but also chargesheeted for an attempted murder. He used to drive up with impunity to the courthouse at Balurghat, District Dakshin Dinajpur in a government car, complete with red light on top. When asked why Narayan Biswas has not resigned so far, Anil Biswas, Secretary of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, said that until he was adjudged guilty he was innocent, and the question of his resignation did not arise. Hari Sain Verma, the Superintendent of Police, North 24-Parganas, and an upstanding young IPS officer had started investigating a notorious mafioso of Habra, District North 24-Parganas nicknamed ‘Bulton’. He was promptly transferred away from the district, to be replaced by Basudeb Bag, who has been described earlier in connection with driving away anti-CPI(M) political workers from Pashchim Midnapore.
To what depth of depravity does a human being have to descend in order to be able to set on fire alive a hopelessly outnumbered fellow human being, as the CPI(M) goons had done to Ananda Margi sanyasis, and to the BJP workers Satya Modak and Naranarayan Naskar? This can happen when a human being is either drunk or incensed, and in these cases they were both, drunk on the unbridled power of the CPI(M), and incensed at anybody daring to challenge the authority of the party! These human beings, simple-minded peasants or students had been relentlessly indoctrinated to believe that what the party says will have to be done, that the orders of the party will have to be obeyed without question, no matter what. This is just what the Nazis did to the Concentration Camp victims, ultimately justifying their acts by the maxim Befehl zu befehl, orders are orders. Here in West Bengal they say Party-r nirdesh, mantei hobe (the party has ordered it, it has to be done) ; and knife a defenceless boy to death!
In this manner the CPI(M) have criminalized the politics, and a substantial section of the youth in West Bengal. And it has to be said in fairness to the youth that a lot of them do not have much choice. The unemployment in West Bengal is stultifying, all-pervasive, soul-killing, nothing less – for the average youth passing out of a High School or College, the future is just one huge black hole. A lot of them are therefore either tempted or enticed to get into political crime or criminal politics promoted by the CPI(M). It gives them something to do, it gives them money, and more than anything else, it gives them clout, and therefore, self-esteem. And there is safety in numbers, and almost-total freedom from arrest or prosecution, guaranteed by the political police. So why shouldn’t they do it ? Is it not very satisfying for a nineteen-year old to handle a handgun, a lethal weapon, turn it about in his hands, brandish it, and see a company director or a college principal, people who would have otherwise intimidated him, turn into jelly before his eyes?
S C I E N T I F I C R I G G I N G
Poll-rigging, turned into a fine art, and practiced through scientific methods by the CPI(M), has several elements. It begins with the doctoring of the electoral rolls, carried out in collusion with the Coordination Committee (CC). It must be said that at this stage the opposition parties have a role to play, in which they very often fail and give a go-by to the CPI(M). The draft electoral rolls are published months before the elections, and all political parties have the opportunity to correct them. This opportunity is very often not adequately utilized. In any case it shows organizational weakness on the part of the opposition, but does not detract from the crime of the CPI(M) or the CC.
The real rigging begins one or two days previous to election day. This phase has the following sub-phases : threatening or intimidating polling staff not affiliated to the CC, a day or two before the polls ; jamming of polling booths, a step lying in the borderland between the legal and the illegal ; proxy voting, done usually in Kolkata and other urban areas ; breach of secrecy, or watching which way people vote ; booth capturing, followed by ‘chhappa’ voting ; deliberately putting defective seals on ballot boxes where votes have mostly gone against the CPI(M), and it has not been found possible to prevent this during the polling. Then there is the next phase, causing disappearance of ballot boxes between their storage and their opening prior to counting. The last phase, sleight-of-hand techniques during the counting process, has gone out of use with the adoption of electronic voting machines, but was made use of in the counting of Panchayat election votes of 2003 when counting was done manually.
Let us begin with the first step, threatening law-abiding election staff. Bartaman did a story on this in its 29th May issue titled “SOSHOSTRO CADRE-DER TOTPOROTAY KAAJ KORTE HOYNI VOTE-KORMIDER” (ARMED CADRES DO POLL OFFICIALS’ WORK). The story is very revealing and a part of it is quoted below :
“. . . . . Polling officials for a booth under police station Goaltor, district West Midnapore, had reached their location on the night previous to the day of polling. The same night they were visited by a local CPI(M) leader with a few youths. The young men all had revolvers stuck into their waistbands, which they showed to the polling staff by making a show of scratching their midriffs and lifting their shirts in the process. These men then asked the Presiding Officer, “Who’s going to arrange the voting, you or us”?
The Presiding Officer had the courage to tell them, “Whatever you wish to do, do outside. Please let us do our job inside the booth”.
The CPI(M) leader did not like the reply. In a very cold and ominous voice he told the Presiding Officer that if that was his attitude, then he should not hold the leader or his men responsible if anything untoward takes place.
As soon as the CPI(M) men left, the Presiding Officer contacted the police. The police officer on duty heard him out, then said “Yours is a ‘C’ category booth, to be looked after by Home Guards. This is a quiet area, we do not apprehend any trouble. If there is any trouble, let us know, we’ll come over”.
Next day the Presiding Officer was supervising the arrangements at the polling station and was in the process of getting a piece of gunny curtain strung around the booth to ensure secrecy. The CPI(M) leader who had visited him the previous night came along and told him “There is no need for a curtain. You sit down on that chair and be comfortable. We shall arrange the voting”.
The Presiding Officer could muster no more courage and gave up. Very peaceful polling followed”.
[NOTE : 1. This Goaltor had been the scene of the gang-rape mentioned earlier.
2. Home Guards in West Bengal, for some reason, have come to be known for
their weak physique. Even little children make fun of them.]
What the CPI(M) cadres did after silencing the Presiding Officer at Goaltor is popularly known in West Bengal as Chhappa voting, associated with booth-capturing. Both these processes are totally illegal. This type of rigging is normally done in rural areas. A handful of local CPI(M) workers, usually armed, intimidate and silence the polling staff (unless the polling staff are CC members and eager to help them) and shoo away all agents of rival parties, as well as all genuine voters. They then capture the booth and go on stamping the ballots, folding them and stuffing them into the boxes. The police pretend that nothing is happening, and in any case have the ready excuse that they were not summoned by the Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer is more worried about who will feed his wife and children if he does not return home from this Godforsaken polling station than he is about electoral proprieties. So he also pretends that nothing is happening, and the game goes on. The process has been rendered even simpler where electronic voting machines are used. One person holds down the control button while another goes on pressing the voter’s button continuously. There is a risk of overkill here -- chhappa voting is rendered so easy with the machine that it is difficult to gauge where to stop. In order to make the results somewhat credible (the reader will see for himself or herself how credible they are) some votes are given to the opposition.
The whole process is regimented and carefully orchestrated. Cadres have to go through orientation classes for days previous to the polling. Yet they cannot resist the temptation of giving all the votes to the CPI(M), with the result that the results cease to be credible.
Chhappa voting is generally not used in urban areas, especially Kolkata, for fear of adverse publicity, though it is not altogether unknown. Instead, proxy voting is used together with booth-jamming. Proxy voting, which means ‘A’ impersonating and voting as ‘B’, is clearly illegal, but booth-jamming lies in the borderland. In this method, not altogether unknown in other states such as Bihar, CPI(M) cadres form huge queues at the polling booths from the morning, and do their voting at an excruciatingly slow rate. As a result many genuine voters get disgusted and go away. If agents of other parties object to this impersonation such agents are quietly threatened with dire consequences. If even this does not work then the “dummy” candidates’ agents come into play. Dummy candidates are independent candidates in name, but in reality fielded by the CPI(M), with the express purpose of increasing the population of their agents inside the polling booth. If one CPI(M) and three dummy agents shout at the top of their voices that ‘A’ is indeed ‘B’, very few rival party agents or polling officers would have the courage to say that ‘A’ is not ‘B’. It is quite true that other parties can also field such dummy candidates, and occasionally they do but in West Bengal the CPI(M) is different. As the immortal George Orwell would have said, all parties are equal, but the CPI(M) is more equal.
By midday, the immaculate organization of the CPI(M) forms a clear idea about who of the genuine voters have not turned up so far to vote. They then unleash another army of proxy voters who do their job. Around this time the atmosphere in the polling stations also becomes relaxed, and the agents of other parties and polling staff also tend to be less vigilant. One reason for the relative inaction by the agents of other parties is that they are fewer in number, and therefore cannot take turns, and naturally get very tired by this time. The CPI(M), on the other hand, can always draw upon the multitude of unemployed youth in West Bengal by material enticements.
However, by a combination of all these methods the CPI(M) can manage about 60-65 % polling on an average, of which the share of genuine voters may be 50-55 %. This is not enough to win seats in the face of total disenchantment of the people with the CPI(M), which accounts for their poor performance in Kolkata and the other urban centres. As opposed to this, in the rural areas polling percentage may go up to nearly 90 %. Going by universal polling trends this is extremely paradoxical, since polling percentages are always higher in cities because of heightened political consciousness of the people and convenience of traveling to the polling station. Yet in West Bengal it is the opposite, and the reason for this is the prevalence of chhappa voting in rural areas. The following statistics are very revealing.
RESULTS OF SOME CONSTITUENCIES IN THE STATE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS, 2001
TABLE-I RURAL CONSTITUENCIES
Sl. No. Constituency District Total votes Polled votes Percentage Winning Party
1 Natabari Cooch Behar 1,42,849 1,23,352 86 % CPI(M)
2 Jalangi Murshidabad 1,78,842 1,44,911 81 % CPI(M)
3 Mainaguri (SC) Jalpaiguri 1,52,351 1,20,348 79 % RSP
4 Palashipara Nadia 1,65,591 1,32,966 80 % CPI(M)
5 Taldangra Bankura 1,60,631 1,28,446 80 % CPI(M)
6 Itahar Uttar Dinajpur 1,55,813 1,29,271 83 % CPI
7 Ratua Malda 1,39,566 1,09,596 79 % CPI(M)
8 Pursura Hooghly 1,57,222 1,33,436 85 % CPI(M)
9 Canning East South 24-Parganas 1,45,733 1,16,904 80 % CPI(M)
10 Bhatar Bardhaman 1,59,713 1,27,928 80 % CPI(M)
TABLE-II URBAN CONSTITUENCIES
1 Rashbehari Kolkata 1,24,030 64,619 52 % Trinamool
2 Alipore Kolkata 1,38,506 71,296 51 % Trinamool
3 Tollygunge Kolkata 1,50,771 1,00,798 67 % Trinamool
4 Chowringhee Kolkata 1,41,615 59,671 42 % Trinamool
5 Barabazar Kolkata 86,800 28,239 32 % Trinamool
6 Shyampukur Kolkata 91,524 61,328 67 % CPI(M)
7 Siliguri Darjeeling 2,84,376 1,83,519 64 % CPI(M)
8 Kharagpur Pashchim Medinipur 1,47,722 79,066 54 % Congress
9 Berhampore Murshidabad 2,23,161 1,52,677 68 % Congress
10 Asansol Bardhaman 1,87,870 1,08,097 58 % Congress
The rural constituencies mentioned in Table-I have been very carefully chosen so as to cover the length and breadth of the state and thus to be representative in character. In certain rural pockets, particularly the terror-affected ones around the tri-junction of the districts of Pashchim Medinipur, Hooghly and Bankura (of which Pursura finds a place in Table-I) the polling percentage was consistently very high, as would be seen from the following table.
TABLE-III POLLING IN TERROR-AFFECTED AREAS
1 Goghat (SC) Hooghly 1,77,301 1,50,616 84 % FB
2 Arambagh Hooghly 1,96,605 1,61,410 82 % CPI(M)
3 Garbeta (East) Pashchim Medinipur 1,43,699 1,23,667 86 % CPI(M)
4 Salboni Pashchim Medinipur 1,36,005 1,13,192 83 % CPI(M)
5 Kotulpur Bankura 1,62,560 1,37,510 84 % CPI(M)
We can now take a closer look at some of the constituencies which have earned notoriety in respect of rigging. One such constituency is Canning East, district South 24-Parganas which has returned CPI(M) minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah for a long time. Another is Garbeta West, which returned the Minister of State called Sushanta Ghosh, accused of assisting terrorization in the area by illicit gun-running, and that too in a government vehicle. The kind of rigging run by these gentlemen and their party in the Assembly elections of 2001 should be apparent from the following tables :
TABLE-IV BOOTHWISE VOTE FIGURES IN CANNING EAST
Booth no. Votes polled by the CPI(M) Votes polled by all other candidates combined
43 362 2
66 665 6
81 458 0
87 953 0
51 602 3
55 630 2
82 748 8
83 748 16
84 504 29
91 642 14
92 313 14
98 949 5
142 575 26
143 371 15
144 577 13
145 478 11
170 636 28
171 467 9
172 629 14
173 368 41
174 358 6
175 709 6
TABLE-V BOOTHWISE VOTE FIGURES IN GARBETA WEST
56 449 16
57 663 16
58 695 12
59 798 14
60 381 0
61 984 7
62 610 13
63 687 3
64 920 18
68 337 29
139 676 9
140 660 13
145 887 17
146 758 9
149 503 2
148 693 9
152 798 7
153 508 5
158 987 7
159 892 7
160 699 6
161 495 8
191 919 3
192 507 1
193 598 0
188 552 10
189 734 12
195 573 9
196 738 23
198 990 17
Baranagar is an urban constituency in district North 24-Parganas lying just Northwest of Kolkata. In fact it is a part of Kolkata in terms of postal zone. Here the main contenders in 2001 were Trinamool and RSP. The CPI(M), on behalf of the RSP, had tried chhappa voting in some, but not all, of the booths in Baranagar constituency. The result was a widely disparate voting pattern between those booths in which chhappa voting was done, and those in which there was no chhappa voting, only proxies. The position is shown in the following table.
TABLE VI VOTING PATTERN IN BARANAGAR
Booth no. Votes polled by RSP Votes polled by Trinamool
3 584 29
3A 445 51
93 548 99
143 369 64
179 422 95
142 301 260
144 334 233
145 206 142
146 268 290
147 258 191
148 274 269
237 100 221
The Bengali daily ‘Bartaman’, with a circulation of nearly five lakhs, had rendered yeoman service to the cause of electoral propriety by exposing this gigantic fraud of the CPI(M).
Hundreds of such figures can be cited, but the story they tell is only that of the election day. CPI(M)’s electoral fraud certainly does not end on that day but continues into two further phases : the interregnum between election and counting, and counting day. The last bit is now largely eliminated by the introduction of electronic voting machines, but where manual voting and counting are still adopted (as had happened in the Panchayat Elections of 2003), the CPI(M) derives considerable mileage out of them.
What happens in the interregnum between election and counting is plain swapping of ballot boxes, or stuffing the boxes with extra ballots. The question would arise how this could be done, since the ballot boxes are sealed and signed, all kept in a strong room, with the lock duly sealed and the seal signed by agents of the parties present. This is all true, but if the police (belonging to the NG) and the polling staff conspire with the CPI(M) to do it, and there is always the all-pervading atmosphere of fear, then there are very few things that cannot happen in the polling process Unfortunately this particular phase of polling is impossible to prove, and the reader will have to be content with bare allegations. Consider the report of Shyam Mahata, BJP candidate for Zilla Parishad seat no. 11 in Ranibandh, Bankura district in the Panchayat Elections of 2003.
On opening the ballot boxes in booth no. 13 (Dabri) and 71 (Deuli) Shri Mahata found that the total number of ballot papers found inside far exceeded the number of votes polled at these two booths. Needless to say, all the extra votes were in favour of the CPI(M) candidate. He immediately applied to the Returning Officer for the counting sheet and the declaration sheet, and also a recount of the votes. As soon as he came out of the booth for a smoke, he was accosted by some familiar characters who told him that whatever papers he wanted would be duly supplied, but only to his widow. Shyam Mahata was an intelligent man, and knew that he had no recourse. He did not press the matter.
Ashit Ghara, BJP’s Gram Panchayat candidate for Dhuliapur (1/7) booth, Pratappur-I anchal, Panskura-I block, district Paschim Medinipur, got 355 votes as against 319 secured by CPI(M)’s Subhas Dolui. This would put the Panchayat board in Trinamool-BJP’s hands. Just as Ashit had taken the certificate from the Returning Officer and was about to put it in his pocket, Niranjan Shee, CPI(M)’s Sabhadhipati of the Zilla Parishad, burst into the room with a few people in tow, several of them carrying revolvers. Niranjan snatched the certificate from the hands of Ashit, tore it up, and demanded a repoll. Meanwhile one of the comrades held a handgun to the head of the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer, trembling all over, ordered the repoll, declared 62 of Ashit’s votes to be invalid, and also declared Subhas Dolui to be the winner, and wrote out a fresh certificate. One part of the torn original certificate was however still with Ashit, and with that he filed a case against Niranjan and others. The case is pending.
What happened during the days of manual counting, including the counting for the Panchayat Elections of 2003, is plain sleight-of-hand, a technique so outstanding in its simplicity that it borders on pure, if evil, genius. The polling staff in this phase are selected CC activists who are good at this kind of work. The standard method of counting votes is to make bundles of 50 with stamps against a particular candidate, and the bundle is recognized by the top and the bottom ballots, the bottom ballot being placed upside-down. The bundles are then counted. There are two standard techniques in use in this phase. The first is to make a bundle of non-CPI(M) ballots, with a CPI(M) ballot at top and bottom. The second is to make CPI(M) bundles of 47 and non-CPI(M) bundles of 53. Somebody in the CC, or in Alimuddin Street had found out that in this range of 47 to 53 it was not possible to determine, even for experienced hands, that there were more or less ballots in the bundle than 50. This kind of fraud is extremely difficult to catch unless one is extremely vigilant, and even then, the most that can happen is the counting staff making a frank confession “Oh, bhool hoye gachhey ! (Oh, I have made a mistake !)”. BJP workers caught such a case in Mayureshwar gram Panchayat in Birbhum district.
Thus runs CPI(M)’s gigantic fraud machine in West Bengal, fine-tuned to suit the requirement of every constituency. The machinery is as efficient as that of any multinational company, and just as ruthless. The belief that Bengalis cannot organize themselves and participate in a corporate effort has been disproved by this machine. Alas, the machine, this superb organization, has not served the Bengalis or Bengal. It has only served a malevolent political party that promises to take the state and the people backwards, backwards, backwards, into an eventual total doom.
I S T H E R E A W A Y O U T ?
There is bound to be. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us “Nasato vidyate bhavah, nabhavo vidyate satah / Ubhayorapi drishtoantastvanayostatvadarshivih” (That which is honest exists for all times, that which is dishonest does not exist even if seems otherwise, this is known to wise men) (II. 16). Paraphrased, it means, that which is based on honesty will last, that which is based on dishonesty will perish. Eight crores of Bengalis were not destined for all times to come to be the slaves of a malevolent bunch of people called the CPI(M), whose principal virtue is low cunning, and whose aim is nothing higher than eternalizing its own rule through sham elections.
No one should, however, think that it is going to be easy. The parallels of Telengana (Andhra Pradesh), where the Communists were reduced to insignificance, and Kerala, where Nationalist forces are more than a match for the CPI(M), are applicable to only a limited extent to West Bengal. Two factors have had a profound influence in making them so powerful in West Bengal. The first is their uninterrupted rule over twenty-six years. This has emboldened their supporters to such an extent that many among them now believe that no force on earth can remove the CPI(M), ever, from the state. In their detractors, the continued stay in power has caused a mixture of utter demoralization and despair. This did not happen in Kerala, and in Andhra they were vanquished before they could ever come to power. However, the worst effect of this continued rule has been the widespread politicization of the Police and the Bureaucracy, something that has already been discussed at length.
To understand why they have been able to stick to power so long, one has to look at the second factor, namely the conduct of the Indian National Congress. The Congress was in power till 1977 which they abdicated to the CPI(M)-led Left Front, and their leader, the ex-Chief Minister Siddartha Sankar Ray, immediately decamped from the political arena, to go back to his lucrative legal practice. The party was thus left without a leader, and totally abstained from any political activity, although they still enjoyed a huge support base all over the state. The CPI(M) made use of this inertia of the Congress to consolidate their hold on the countryside and the bureaucracy. The Congress cadres, in the process were driven out of their bases, and became what is known as ‘para chhara’ (away from their locations), resulting in further degeneration of the party. Surprisingly, at this time West Bengal had two ministers in the central cabinet Pranab Mukherjee and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury something the state very seldom had. Of these two, Pranab did absolutely nothing for the growth of the party in the state. In fact he left the Congress at this juncture, to form a party called Rashtiya Samajbadi Congress (RSC – often referred to as the ‘Rascal Party’), but came back shortly thereafter. Ghani Khan, as Railway minister, did a lot for the state at the administrative level, but neglected state politics. As a result the party languished in the state, and the state leaders, by and by, decided to make their peace with the CPI(M), and live as their satraps. The unwritten rule of this game was that they would, from time to time, make routine noises, but nothing serious, not even going to the rescue of their own supporters being roughed up by the CPI(M). This explains why the Congress did not rebel against the withdrawal of the Sain Bari murder case or in favour of the amputees of Kandua (Amta, Howrah, 1988 see above). This arrangement suited the CPI(M) beautifully, and they rewarded the leaders with gifts such as a plot of land in the upmarket Salt Lake area of Kolkata for one, a Rajya Sabha seat for another, and so on. Meanwhile, from the early nineties, the CPI(M) under the leadership of their Secretary-General Harkishan Singh Surjeet, started cosying up to the Congress, and the process was complete by the turn of the century. This helped the process of the state leaders of West Bengal coming even closer to the CPI(M).
Today there is hardly an issue on which the Congress and the CPI(M) differ in the state. Oh, they fight elections against each other, of course, and Congress workers get killed by the dozens, but that is neither here nor there. It suits the CPI(M) immensely to have the Congress as their only opposition, and the CPI(M) implemented this design in the Panchayat elections of 2003, with the result that the Congress again became the second party in the state.
One intrepid young woman in the Congress, however, refused to join this game from the very beginning.. Her name was Mamata Banerjee, and she had leadership qualities. When the going got impossible, she left the Congress and founded her own party, the All-India Trinamool Congress, which immediately replaced the Congress as the principal opposition party. The BJP meanwhile, was gaining strength at the centre and had also carved out a niche for itself in the state. The BJP was one party which had never compromised with Communists anywhere. It was therefore natural that the two parties should come together, and they did, albeit gingerly. The Trinamool also joined the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the centre, and Mamata became the Railway minister. Then, as they were preparing to fight the state assembly elections together in 2001, she made one horrible, fatal mistake : she left the BJP and joined the Congress. The inevitable result followed : the CPI(M)-led Left Front was returned to power for the sixth time. As was to be expected, the understanding with the Congress did not last, and the Trinamool and the BJP again fought the Panchayat elections of 2003 together.
The intention behind this short discourse on West Bengal politics is to underline the fact that no serious opposition to the CPI(M) is possible from the side of the Congress. The fight has to come from the Trinamool-BJP combine. It would have been ideal if the entire opposition could have united against the CPI(M), but there seems to be no such possibility in the foreseeable future. Compulsions of central politics, tender concern for the 23 % minority vote in West Bengal, and the fact that the state Congress leaders are too far gone in their pro-CPI(M) ways, will never let the three principal opposition parties in West Bengal come together. The fight will be between the CPI(M) on the one hand, and the Trinamool-BJP combine on the other, with the Congress and the other Left parties on the side of the CPI(M). In this fight the Trinamool-BJP will also have to contend with their Tarmooj (watermelon) elements, so named because they are green on the outside but red inside. These are the fifth columnists in the ranks, who have been bought over by the CPI(M).
It is not proposed to lay down the entire strategy for this fight in this short booklet. The main enemy that the Trinamool-BJP combine will have to contend with is the politicized police and bureaucracy. Those who clamour for the imposition of central rule in the state by application of Art. 355/356 of the Constitution would do well to remember that depoliticisation and neutralisation of this machinery is not automatic with central rule. The elements in the police and bureaucracy who have so far assisted the CPI(M) have a stake in their continuation, and will try every trick in the book and outside to make the CPI(M) come back. The CPI(M)-ruled Panchayats that have been installed all over the state by the sham elections of 2003 will also lend their might to this effort. The Congress is also not eager to see a Trinamool-BJP government installed in a state that so far had a friendly regime ruling. They will also, therefore, oppose the application of Art. 355/356, as they had done in the case of Bihar, whereby they reinstated the corrupt Laloo government there. This is the first and the most important problem that will have to be addressed.
A P P E N D I X
A V I E W B Y A N I N S I D E R
Balai Chandra Chakrabarti, a retired officer of the West Bengal Civil Service, who just before his retirement had been a Special secretary in the Government of West Bengal, has provided valuable insight into the system through an article printed in the Kolkata daily “The Statesman” of June 3, 2003. The article is so illuminating as well as revealing that it deserves to be, and has been reproduced in full below. It would be noted that most of Chakrabarti’s views, on subjects such as the hold of Stalinism in the CPI(M), and Ajoy Sinha, agree with those of the editor of this book.
PANCHAYAT DRAMA: Where Do We Go From Here?
BALAI CHANDRA CHAKRABARTI- former special secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
In no other state in India do the Panchayat elections raise so much heat and dust as in West Bengal. One reason is the importance this rural self-government system claims in the social life of the people. But the recent headlines on the Panchayat elections are not due to that. The furore is all about the strategy of terror adopted by CPI-M to prevent opposition candidates from filing nominations. As reports go, more than 6,000 CPI-M candidates, mostly in areas previously considered to be bastions of the opposition, have been elected unopposed and many others will only have sham contests. The gullible Bengali is asked by the party’s state secretary to believe that rural West Bengal is going gaga over Left democracy and would not look for any alternative just as the American President apparently convinced the world that the people of Iraq were ready to settle for any number of bombs in their quest for democracy. .
Elixir of Power.
The Panchayati Raj and Land Reforms have been the twin achievements of the front. But the tragedy, or the twin tragedy, is that both have lost their sheen after the initial success. Now this twin liability appear to be the legs of the mythological Betal astride the hapless Bengali. Land reforms have driven small and middle farmers into subjugation and, at the same time, beckoned villagers with the carrot of “patta”. The Panchayats control everything else like money, influence and power. I remember my involvement in the first Panchayat elections in 1978 when I was posted as SDO in Cooch Behar. The job was back-breaking but exciting as all of us, including people from all parties, functioned in a friendly and democratic atmosphere. I also cherish the memory of the first real test of this new Panchayat setup at work when I did flood-relief operations in my capacity as SDO, Arambagh in Hooghly district. The floods of September-October 1978 were the worst in the history of the state and the Left Front government, in a momentous decision, asked the district administration to work in tandem with the Panchayat system. The decision was not initially liked by bureaucrats as we were not enthusiastic about the rustic functionaries returned by the Panchayat electorate. But I still feel nostalgic about the dedication, commitment and sincerity of those village leaders without which it would have been impossible to provide rescue, relief and reconstruction to the ravaged society.
I shall cherish scenes like a CPI-M Panchayat Pradhan carrying a sack-load of bread on his head, plodding through waist-deep water towards his Panchayat office, or a CPI(M) Saha-Sabhapati weeping inconsolably in the arms of a political enemy on realising the extent of damage and devastation caused by the floods to the area under his samiti.
The characters in the Panchayat script have remained largely the same, but their dialogue, actions and swagger have changed beyond recognition. Some time ago I found in a TV channel the same weeping Saha-Sabhapati mouthing strange untruths about his political opponents. The elixir of power, pomp and wealth has caught up with Panchayat functionaries over this period.
As a result, their tenure in power is in reverse proportion to their performance. The real reason for this is the lack of democracy inherent in the Stalinist system. Logical dissent is the essence of democracy, but these functionaries look at things only through the party prism and fall prey to rigidity, nepotism and blinkers. The system does not inspire a benevolent leadership and tends to encourage coercion, fraud and corruption.
The Left Front exists only in name. The real coalition ceased to exist after the deaths of Indira Gandhi and, thereafter, Rajiv Gandhi. With no opposition on the horizon, the CPI(M) cares little for partners in the front. The partners also try to shake off the yoke. But neither Big Brother nor the wards want a final break-up as that may deprive them of whatever they have. In the process, the Leftists have lost the faith reposed in them by the people of West Bengal. The political class all over the country now offers either villains or jokers and no real heroes. The unique feature in West Bengal is that here the people hardly get the opportunity to choose. They have remained buried under the same stone for over a quarter of a century. But this stone has tentacles to counter any effort to dislodge it from its permanent seat. These devices are being constantly invented, updated and upgraded during each election by party experts who would make Marx, Lenin or, even, Stalin blush in their graves. The technology is operated through openly partisan sub-staff and subordinate policemen as their superiors make various noises or simply look the other way. The kit includes tampered electoral rolls, ingenious booth-managing methods and counting techniques. Although the electronic voting machine has deprived them of one trick, the rig doctors appeared to come up with something new in a recent municipal election to the Salt Lake municipality. The absence of any real opposition political outfit has enabled the nexus between the party and the government to develop a fool-proof election machinery. Even the efficient and independent Election Commission of India has failed to have a worthwhile look at the flip-side of the devices.
Even then, the CPI(M) realised long ago that the medicine used in parliamentary or legislative elections may not be applicable to the Panchayat polls. In the first place, there are far too many cookies up for grabs in the Panchayat field to make a peaceful entente among Left Front partners possible. It is no longer a battle for and on behalf of the people but only a skirmish for crumbs of office. The CPI(M), therefore, resorted to terror tactics like the threat of ostracism to put pressure on contestants and voters during the last Panchayat elections.
The CPI(M) was on a stickier wicket this time. The BJP-Trinamul combine made louder noises and the Congress looked more businesslike. Not to speak of Front partners, CPI(M) has even failed to curb ambition in its own family. It, therefore, shut out the nomination of prospective trouble-makers by local methods. This is, in fact, not entirely a new tool in their hands; this device has been paying rich dividends to Students’ Federation of India (SFI) unions in colleges all over the state for the last decade or so. District officers are incapable of preventing this farce — whatever the instructions issued from the Chief Minister’s office. The Election Commission can, however, make government take appropriate action. But it appears the CPI(M) has been able to appoint the right man as the chief electoral officer who has stubbornly refused to buy the story of the opposition and the media on the nomination scandal.
In an editorial, this newspaper made some suggestions on the credentials of this officer. Journalists may find it worthwhile to seek relevant information from the Home (Personnel and Administrative Reforms) and Home (Political) departments of Government of West Bengal of the merits of his service record and the manner which the decision on the appointment was clinched. He appears to be more concerned about reminding officials like the Union Home Secretary on the limits of their areas of interest rather than in his own responsibilities. Most amazing has been the attitude of some top CPI(M) leaders towards the allegations regarding nominations. They ridiculed the allegations made not only by opposition leaders and the media but also by front partners and, even, indirectly acknowledged by the Chief Minister. These leaders even came up with noble offers of escorting prospective opposition candidates to returning officers for submitting nomination papers. Has the arrogance in the air around White House been transmitted to the atmosphere around Alimuddin Street?