Political Violence in Bengal

    Political violence in the state of Bengal has manifested itself since the pre-independence period. Lack of distinction between the private and public domain has made political violence pervasive. The transition of power through elections has always been notoriously violent, witnessing numerous political deaths. This phenomenon has a debilitating effect on social structures which hampers peace and security of the state. This article attempts to pen down the discourse of political violence which is being continued till date and how it is considered as the fundamental principle of Bengal politics without paying any heed to withered social structures.

    Each state and society in India follows its practices and different shades of democracy. Political violence has consistently been an intrinsic part of Bengal’s history. The types of such viciousness from time to time have mutated and transformed themselves. Political savagery can be better put as violence sponsored by administration conducted within a legal framework.[1]Political violence in Bengal has subsumed all forms of social violence generated by religion, caste, or gender. Social violence is seemingly quite low in Bengal probably because every episode of violence in Bengal appears to be an act of political savagery.

    The continuous political violence in Bengal is accused either on Trinamool Congress pioneer Mamata Banerjee’s mission for domination or on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s desire to extend Hindutva’s impression countrywide. As a matter of fact, both parties are complicit in creating a situation of political violence ultimately leading to the deterioration of state. However what is overlooked in this blame game is the abrasion of social structures — the structure of caste, religion, and more predominantly feudal class who played a pivotal role in shaping Bengal’s rural society and guaranteeing harmony and security.

    Just the nomenclature of “the ruling party” varies with time but the situation of constant political savagery remains constant throughout. Whether it is Trinamool Congress, left, or BJP, all of these political parties have acquired a monopoly in interfering in every sphere of social activity of Bengal which in turn leads to erosion of social structures[2]. All sorts of social institutions such as caste councils, religious institutions, village councils are demonized or made subordinate to the ‘ruling party’. [3]

    The brutality one experienced in Bengal during British rule changed its structure in the post Independence period. West Bengal is trapped in the pains of what can be called ‘complete politics.’[4] From enacting welfare measures brought in by the state government to solving disputes of marriages, the property even issues of ethical morality all of these come under the ambit of “the party’s” functionaries. There is hardly any demarcation between public and personal spheres which makes politics quite pervasive, so does the violence.

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    Political violence in the state of Bengal has manifested itself since the pre-independence period. Violence became endemic in Bengal’s politics soon after 1959.The refugee issue of Bangladesh led to a violent uprising in 1959.[5] After this province faced the bloodbath on communal lines in the pre and post independence era, another seed of brutality was planted somewhere inside its political ethos during the 1960s. During the 1960’s when Bengal Marxists came into power, the turf between congress and Marxists communist party caused a brutal bloodbath in the state. Naxalites waged a war against the state of Bengal and PM Indira Gandhi wanted to suppress this. The tussle between the two impacted the state deeply and the general public were made to bear the brunt of this situation.And the same could be seen during the emergency era (1972-1977). In 1967 there was a peasant’s violent outburst leading to the forcible occupation of land owned by landlords which are at present known as naxal movement. Naxalites waged a war against the state of Bengal and then PM Indira Gandhi wanted to suppress this. The tussle between the two impacted the state deeply and the general public was made to bear the brunt of this situation.

    Marxists came into power in 1977 and remained for a very long time. During this period the state of Bengal not only witnessed factory closures, strikes but also rampant political deaths. During this period Marxist pioneers established absolute control over the state masqueraded as land reforms and Panchayati Raj.

     Few refugees from Bangladesh migrated to Bengal at the behest of few CPI-M leaders who thought of taking them as vote banks. These refugees didn’t agree to go by leftist philosophy and ultimately declined to leave the state. In 1979 police of Bengal penned down the darkest chapter of history by opening fire on these refugees. T This bloody massacre took the lives of more than 100 people in the state whose dead bodies were dumped into the Raimangal river.  After this massacre, there were many ruthless communal violence incidents in the state. One such incident is where few Hindu monks were burned alive by leftist government workers after the rumors that they were child-lifters. Then there were mob lynching of Muslim landless laborers. All of these brutal killings shocked the entire nation.

    During the final years of the left front headed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, things were not in the place they went haywire especially concerning land acquisition issues. During his tenure, there was rampant corruption in the state and there were fatal clashes between Trinamool Congress and Marxist leaders which took the lives of many people. When the Left juggernaut shrieked to an end, Panchayati Raj was reduced to mere money-making machines.[6]

    In 2011 when Mamata Banerjee came to power she asserted to bring politics of change rather than politics of vengeance. But sadly the brutal bloodbath and turf war was still in continuance.

    Whenever the political power is transferred it is always marked by a gigantic level of violence including the unprecedentedly violent panchayat elections of 2018. The Panchayat election of 2018 practically took Bengal back in time. While just 10 individuals kicked the bucket on polling date, against an unsurpassed high of 76 in 2003 and 39 in 2013. This election witnessed rigging, booth capturing and stamping of ballot papers for which TMC was made responsible.[7]

    This election fiasco set off the rise of the BJP party and the Left was practically cleared out. Bengal’s tryst with political savagery saw a fresh start. Nevertheless, Bengalis were not so much in for a shock. Political violence has just become an integral part of life in the state.

    Elections that are regarded as peaceful means to change the ruling regime and transfer the power, is perpetually bound to happen in Bengal through violence. Irrespective of the fact which party wins it is bound to engage in a zero-sum game. Violence has become a peculiar feature of politics in the state of Bengal.[8]

     High profile political killings in this state are quite prevalent. MLA Satyajit Biswas was shot to death earlier this year during pooja celebration followed by the suicide of Bengal state legislative assembly member Debendra Nath Roy in June 2020.

    Many party workers from every political party have given up their lives for politics. There have been numerous political killings in West Bengal. Few have been murdered and few were killed in vicious conflict between rival parties. These killings only create short-lived protests and allow the other rival political party to capitalize on the political death.[9]

    Every election poll in Bengal is accompanied by violence. Every transition of power involves production costs. This violence is never sporadic it is usually pre-planned and well-executed.[10] The normalization of political savagery in West Bengal resembles a fixed cost, where the sum may change, however it has to be paid.[11]

     At last, I contend that no state other than Bengal has witnessed a similar sort of violence since its commencement. It is difficult to provide an apt explanation for continued and diversified political violence spread across the state through this evil phenomenon that has manifested itself since the pre-independence era. Though there exists a problematic linkage between political and social violence in all states but Bengal can be an apt model to represent a situation where violence is regarded as an organizing standard of politics while social violence continues being unrecognized.

    REFERENCES

    [1] Dipankar Basu “Political Economy of ‘Middleness’: Behind Violence in Rural West Bengal.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 36, no. 16, 2001, pp. 1333–1344

    [2] Mukhopadhyay,  Asok, and  Ashok Mukhopadhyay. “Politics in west bengal.”  The Indian Journal of Political Science, vol. 55, no. 3, 1994, pp. 321–334

    [3]https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/political-violence-that-rocks-bengal-manifested-itself-50-years-ago-opinion/story-a2dbyQYWbc6ccRIDj82T4H.html 

    [4] Chatterjee, Partha. “The Coming Crisis in West Bengal.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 44, no. 9, 2009

    [5] Das, Suranjan. “Towards an Understanding of Communal Violence in Twentieth Century Bengal.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 23, no. 35, 1988, pp. 1804–1808

    [6] Acharya, P (1993): ‘Panchayats and Left Politics in West Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, May 2

    [7] https://thewire.in/politics/bengal-polls-bjp-mla-killed-violence

    [8] Banerjee, Partha Sarathi. “Party, Power and Political violence in West Bengal.” Economic and political weekly, vol. 46, no. 6, 2011, pp. 16–18.

    [9]Political Killings in West Bengal.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 44, no. 38, 2009, pp. 6–6.

    [10] Banerjee, Sumanta. “West Bengal: Violence without Ideology.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 35, no. 34, 2000, pp. 3003–3004.

    [11]   https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/64000/asa200202007en.pdf


    BY ANAMTA | NLU DELHI

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