The Trinamool Congress’ intolerance for political opposition is no secret and a recent example serves to highlight this adequately.
The Trinamool won an overwhelming majority of the 63,229 gram panchayat, 9,730 panchayat samiti and 928 zilla parishad seats and secured a vote share of 51.14 per cent.
In its desire to form the boards in all gram panchayats and panchayat samitis (it has already won all zilla parishads), the Trinamool has been forcing winners from other Opposition parties to join the Trinamool.
Immediately after the election results were declared, winners belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), as well as those who contested and won as Independents, allegedly started receiving calls from Trinamool leaders asking them to switch allegiance to Bengal’s ruling party.
Those calls, reports allege, were followed up by threats. That forced many Opposition and Independent winners to go into hiding.
A group of four BJP and one Independent candidate who had won the Krishnachandrapur gram panchayat elections in Mathurapur-I Block in South 24 Parganas adjoining Kolkata had sought shelter in a rented house at Panchasayar, a suburb of Kolkata.
The Trinamool had won just four of the 15 seats in the Krishnachandrapur gram panchayat while the BJP won six seats, the CPI(M) won three and Independents won two.
“Trinamool netas started pressurising our family members to reveal our whereabouts. Led by Bapi Haldar, the husband of the Trinamool outgoing gram panchayat pradhan, Trinamool goons threatened our family members that they would be driven away from the village, our houses set on fire and that we would be killed when we eventually surfaced. Fearing for our lives, one of our family members revealed our hideout,” said Karuna Mandal, one of the six winners belonging to the BJP.
Late on Thursday (27 July), armed Trinamool cadre in four cars drove to the house in Panchasayar in Garia, a southern suburb of Kolkata, and allegedly barged into the house.
They reportedly forced the four BJP winners who were hiding in that house to pack their belongings at gunpoint and herded them into the waiting vehicles before driving off to an unknown destination. The Independent candidate who was also in that house hid on the terrace and could not be found.
The Trinamool cadre also reportedly assaulted one of the BJP winners who put up resistance at the rented house. Many neighbours who were awakened by the commotion witnessed the abduction. A CCTV camera also captured the entire act.
Family members of the abducted BJP winners raised a hue and cry as soon as they got to know of the abductions on Friday (28 July).
Local BJP leader Palas Rana told Swarajya: “As soon as news of the abduction spread, the whole village got agitated and the situation soon turned volatile. The police were informed and I told them that our party would lodge a habeas corpus petition before the Calcutta High Court”.
The remaining two winners of the Mathurapur gram panchayat, along with the three winners from the CPI(M) and the two Independent winners lodged a complaint at the Panchasayar Police Station — Panchasayar is less than 10 kilometres northwest of Mathurapur — alleging that TMC cadre were threatening them since the declaration of results and asking them to switch allegiance to the ruling party.
A video, released by Trinamool workers, surfaced the next day (Friday) in which the four abducted BJP panchayat winners claimed that they were safe and had left the house in Panchasayar on their own. They also asserted on the video that no one had abducted them and they were under no pressure.
That video would have been a precursor to the four of them surfacing and declaring that they have switched allegiance to the Trinamool.
But the spoiler in the plan was the news of the abduction spreading and being highlighted in newspapers and TV channels. A hue and cry broke out.
The perpetrators were also unnerved by the BJP’s plans to approach the Calcutta High Court which has, in recent months, taken stern views of the Trinamool’s wrongdoings.
With the whole thing threatening to blow up in its face, the Trinamool decided to backtrack. District Trinamool leaders who allegedly masterminded the plan asked the 'goons' to release the four abducted BJP winners early on Sunday (30 July) morning.
The four abducted BJP panchayat winners reached their homes a couple of hours later. They revealed that they were abducted at gunpoint by Trinamool muscle men from their refuge at Panchasayar and driven to an unknown guesthouse where they were kept throughout Friday (28 July).
“We were forced to sign on blank papers. After that, we were taken to another location and kept there the whole night. Saturday (29 July) a few people dressed as policemen made us sign another set of blank papers. We were forced to sit in front of video cameras and, at gunpoint, asked to read out from a script that we had left the house in Panchasayar on our own and were never abducted. We were also forced to say that we were under no pressure and were happy,” said Karuna Mandal.
Local Trinamool MLA Alok Jaldata however said that “a number of Opposition candidates are joining our party as they find themselves aligned with our ideology”.
Trinamool’s controversial spokesperson Kunal Ghosh who spent many months behind bars for alleged involvement in the infamous told reporters: “They say something today, something else tomorrow. This is all part of a scripted drama to defame the Trinamool”.
But Not A One-Off Incident
This botched abduction is, however, not a one-of incident. Top BJP, Congress and CPI(M) leaders told Swarajya that a huge number of their party candidates who won the recent gram panchayat elections have been under pressure from Trinamool leaders, workers and goons to switch their allegiance.
When the Opposition winners hold out against such threats, their family members are targeted. A senior Congress leader told Swarajya that CPI(M) goons threatened the minor daughter of a Congress candidate who won a panchayat samiti seat in Murshidabad.
“The (Trinamool) goons told her that her father would be murdered and she would be abducted and raped. She was traumatised. We shifted the family to a safe house, but the child is still shaken and is spending sleepless nights,” he told Swarajya.
Opposition leaders say that many of their winning candidates, as well as a large number of Independent candidates, who have received threats are keeping quiet now.
“It is impossible to provide protection to all the winning candidates. Especially since the police and civil administration are completely biased and work at the behest of the Trinamool. We cannot expect any help or protection from the state administration,” said the Congress leader from Murshidabad.
It is when the time for formation of the boards nears — the state government has notified that the process has to be completed by 16 August — that the extent of the success of the Trinamool’s intimidatory tactics will become clear.
It is expected that a number of those who won on BJP, Congress or CPI(M) tickets or as Independents will support Trinamool nominees for the post of panchayat pradhans or presidents of panchayat samitis. And they will be included in the boards of these gram panchayats and panchayat samitis.
Since political parties cannot issue whips to their candidates in the three-tier panchayat system, there is little that the parties can do about their party candidates succumbing to threats and switching allegiance to the Trinamool.
This had happened after the 2013 and 2018 panchayat elections in the state as well. When the boards were formed at all the three tiers of the rural bodies, there were barely any that were controlled by the Opposition parties since almost all the candidates who won on Opposition tickets had been coerced into joining the Trinamool.
The Trinamool also played foul after the 2021 assembly polls. The Trinamool swept the polls, winning 215 of the 288 seats it had contested. The BJP scored a disappointing 77.
But the landslide victory did not stop the Trinamool from 'playing dirty'. It started sending feelers to many newly-elected BJP MLAs and enticed seven of them. And in what can only be called a grave travesty of democratic norms, the seven did not resign from the BJP even though they merrily continue to be part of the treasury benches in the assembly for all practical purposes.
That the Trinamool has a ‘winner takes all’ attitude is also clear by its shenanigans after the by-elections to the Sagardighi Assembly seat in Murshidabad district (a Congress stronghold).
Congress candidate Bayron Biswas, who was supported by the CPI(M), won the polls, defeating the Trinamool candidate. The Trinamool could not stomach this defeat and, within a few weeks, enticed Biswas (the lone Congress MLA in the Assembly) away from the Congress and into the Trinamool.
A few days’ wait will also reveal how many BJP, Congress, CPI(M) and Independent candidates who won the recent panchayat polls in the state have succumbed to threats, intimidation and enticements and joined the ruling party.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.