With campaigning now at a feverish pitch in West Bengal, the violence in this eastern state has gone out of control. On Tuesday evening, a group of Calcutta University students reportedly chanted anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slogans within the campus and BJP supporters charged at them with rods. Local policemen intervened. Around the same time, Amit Shah’s van was ambushed by students with “Go back Amit Shah" placards as the vehicle passed by Vidyasagar College. BJP supporters allegedly stormed the campus, set motorcycles ablaze and vandalized a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in retaliation. The BJP has accused the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party of the dishonour done to Vidyasagar’s likeness.
Either way, West Bengal has stood out this election season for rowdy mobs and violent clashes. The above instances are only the latest in a series of chilling incidents. Just last week, Priyanka Sharma, a BJP youth wing (BJYM) leader in West Bengal, was arrested following a criminal complaint filed against her by a local TMC leader—all because she shared a satirical meme about Mamata Banerjee on Facebook. In a bizarre twist, Sharma—though found not guilty—was asked by the court to issue a written apology to TMC chief Mamata Banerjee for the offence caused to her.
The West Bengal battleground has been a particularly sensitive one for both the BJP and TMC. For the BJP, seats won in West Bengal could be crucial to retaining power at the centre in case it loses a big chunk of the seats it held in Uttar Pradesh. The TMC, on its part, continues the legacy of the CPM by resorting to muscle power to defend what it considers its bastion. Unlike other states, West Bengal thus has two bitterly opposed contenders that appear not to have to many qualms about deploying aggressive street tactics.
Law and order has been a casualty of strong-arm politics, a charge levied by each against the other. The mess had observers wondering when the Election Commission would step in and put an end to the violence. After a review meeting held today, the EC decided to call off all electioneering in the state, effectively bringing the 48-hour silence period forward by a day. Let’s hope that polling on Sunday passes off peacefully. The norms that enable a free and fair election need to be upheld till the very last vote is counted (and verified, if need be).