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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 16, New Delhi, April 3, 2021

Mockery of Democracy | Barun Das Gupta

Friday 2 April 2021, by Barun Das Gupta

The widespread violence that was witnessed on Thursday, April 1, 2021, the polling day, at the Nandigram constituency, from which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting, was anticipated and preventable. Neither the Election Commission nor the Union Home Ministry under which the Central paramilitary forces are, can escape responsibility for it. Mamata was virtually kept detained for over two hours at the Boyal polling booth which she had gone to visit on receipt of reports that the TMC polling agents had been beaten up and thrown out and false voting was being indulged in on a large scale. Ultimately the State police, the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and the Central forces had to escort her out of the besieged booth.

The Election Commission has much to answer for. Mamata had been warning people publicly that antisocial elements had been brought from outside the area and kept at several places like hotels to rig the polls. Precisely, that has happened. After Thursday’s violence, nobody can predict who will win Nandigram. The BJP candidate has stated that they “had a plan”. Obviously, they had and equally obviously the Election Commission failed to act in time to foil that plan. Those less charitable to the Election Commission may even accuse it of complicity.

It may be recalled that a few days ago the TMC had brought into public domain an audio clip in which one BJP leader is heard telling another that since the party lacked the manpower to post polling agents in all the booths (1,01,790), the Election Commission should be approached for issuing an administrative order enabling anybody from any area to be appointed a polling agent anywhere. And precisely that is what the Election Commission did. One of the two leaders dismissed the clip as made-up and “fake”, while the other one confirmed it to be true and found nothing wrong with what they discussed.

In her letter to 15 opposition leaders including Chief Ministers of non-BJP States, Mamata has talked about BJP’s “assault” on democracy and constitutional federalism. She has underlined the need for all the opposition parties to come together to resist these “assaults”. This is different from her earlier attempts at knocking together a Federal Front to defeat the BJP and win parliamentary elections. This is an appeal to save parliamentary democracy from degenerating into a parliamentary dictatorship of one party and one leader without even amending the Constitution. Once this happens, a battle has to be waged for restoring democracy and nobody can predict what shape that battle will take.

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