The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and its allies may not be able to field candidates in as many as 12,000 seats in the upcoming village council election in West Bengal because of attacks on its members, party leaders said.
Polling for around 59,000 seats in the state’s three-tier village administration, or panchayat, is expected to be held in two months.
In the previous 2008 elections, the Left parties won uncontested in at least 4,000 seats. But the CPM fears it may not be able to field candidates in several areas this time because of recent attacks on its leaders such as Abdur Rezzak Mollah, a lawmaker and the state’s former land reforms minister.
The CPM discussed its infirmities and its top leaders were apprised of the ground situation at a recently concluded central committee meeting in Kolkata, state leaders said.
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) says the Left parties may not field candidates in many seats because they have lost their support base.
People don’t wish to contest elections any more on the CPM symbol, said Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, a TMC lawmaker.
The attack on Mollah happened just as the CPM was gaining ground in the South 24 Parganas district, said Robin Deb, a CPM leader and a member of its state committee.
The aim of the attack was to intimidate CPM workers ahead of the panchayat poll, he claimed.
Mollah was assaulted and his car vandalised by miscreants at Bhangar on the outskirts of Kolkata earlier this month.
Arabul Islam, a top TMC leader from the neighbourhood, was arrested in connection with the incident.
Though the TMC initially defended Islam, he was arrested after West Bengal governor M.K. Narayanan launched a scathing attack on the administration for not taking appropriate action in the case.
The state’s chief electoral officer Meera Pande said the Election Commission wants the panchayat election in West Bengal to be held in phases, as was done for the previous one in 2008 and the 2011 assembly election.
“It will ensure better vigilance,” she said. “Let us see if we can convince the state government about the need for holding the election in phases.”
Saugata Ray, a TMC lawmaker at the centre, said the Election Commission’s suggestion was for better deployment of security forces and had nothing to do with the law and order situation in West Bengal.
Breaking the panchayat election into phases will escalate costs substantially, said Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute. “I don’t think we need to hold the panchayat election in phases… I don’t think the state can afford it,” he said.
Besides being targets of violent attacks, the CPM claims some 4,000 workers currently face trumped-up criminal charges.
Also, some 43,000 CPM workers have been driven from their homes after the TMC seized power in the 2011 assembly election, according to Deb.
Left leaders in West Midnapore district were first ousted from their homes by Maoist insurgents, and have not been able to return yet, said Rameshwar Dolui, a CPM lawmaker from the district.
“It is because of Trinamool Congress workers that our workers are still on the run,” he said.
Trinamool Congress leader Chattopadhyay said, “Compared with the anarchy and terror that the CPM had unleashed in its heydays, the Trinamool Congress has done nothing.”