Kolkata: The administrative headquarters of Bengal’s Birbhum woke to a menacing sight today. Carrying swords, daggers and knives, several people had gathered outside the office where candidates for the panchayat elections were given an extra four hours to file their nominations, starting from 11 am.
It was not known which party they belonged to, but the men melted away as news came in that the State Election Commission has scrapped its last night’s order on the extension of nomination, announced last evening after a Supreme Court order to ensure free and fair elections.
Birbhum has seen some of the worst violence in the run-up to the panchayat elections in the state, where Opposition candidates alleged they were not allowed to file nomination papers by the ruling Trinamool Congress.
The Trinamool is already celebrating victory in the district, where it won 41 of 42 zilla parishad seats without a single vote being cast. Only one opposition candidate managed to file papers from one seat in the district.
Local leaders of the TMC say the lack of opposition is because the entire area comprised their supporters – a claim that the BJP has vehemently contested.
“It is opposition-less here… because there is no opponent… the full area is TMC,” said Abhishek Naskar, a local leader of the Trinamool Congress. Asked how that was made possible, he had a one-word response: “Development”.
The party’s local leaders admit to infighting, which has played out rather visibly in the state, but they say resorting to violence is unnecessary, as they brute majority in the assembly with 210 lawmakers.
But the rivals of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — who is enjoying a second stint in power the state – say numbers is no guarantee of success. “They are afraid they are going to lose… Don’t forget in 2006, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (then chief minister belonging to CPM) had 235 MLAs. In 2009 they lost. History repeats itself,” said BJP leader Mukul Roy.
CPM’s Sujan Chakraborty was equally vocal. “I challenge Mamata Banerjee. Please allow free and fair election at least once, and see the debacle,” he said, adding that Ms Banerjee’s party runs on money and muscle.