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Bengal mourns ‘death of democracy’

Some mourned the ‘death of democracy’ while others had some advice for Derek O’Brien

Monday’s Panchayat Election violence in West Bengal —which left 15 dead — left its mark on social media, with WhatsApp groups, Facebook users and Twitterati fighting a different kind of battle.

Some rued the “death of democracy”, others called out the “fools”, and some chose to respond to Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien’s tweet numbering such poll-related deaths under CPM governance in the state.

His party has been facing criticism for its hand in the clashes which, according to reports, started with pre-poll skirmishes between supporters of the governing Trinamool Congress and opposition parties in several areas of the state, including North and South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad and south Dinajpur districts.

Vandalised vans, young boys with desi bombs (made of locally available low-intensity inflammables) shouting political slogans in a threatening manner was among the scenes of the panchayat poll clashes.

As the blame game continued between the BJP, CPM and Trinamool Congress, on WhatsApp people shared a card printed in Bengali, inviting intellectuals to join the 13th day rituals to mourn “the death of democracy”.

The invite said: “I am with deep hurt giving you an invite to join me to mark the 13th day to mourn the death of democracy in our state West Bengal. She was sick for a long time, somehow struggling to survive but it was long and finally it came crumbling down on the ground.”

Shreya Goswami, a travel writer from Kolkata, wrote on her Facebook page a poem by renowned Bengali writer Shankha Ghosh called ‘Pagol’, meaning crazy.

Loosely translated, it means “Get up on the Howrah bridge and then look at the world, you will see two kinds of people — those who are intelligent and the other fools”. So, why there is so much of hue and cry?
Another local journalist posted “Gonotontraer Utsob na Gonotonterer Kobor” — meaning “is this the celebration of democracy or putting the democracy to grave”?

Many criticised Trinamool leaders such as O’Brien for comparing the recent election death toll with that during the previous government’s tenure, and saying the number was at an all-time low in the state. O’Brien had tweeted: “To all ‘newborn’ experts on Bengal #PanchayatElections in State have a history. 400 killed in poll violence in 1990s in CPIM rule. 2003: 40 dead. Every death is a tragedy. Now closer to normal than earlier times. Yes, few dozen incidents. Say, 40 out of 58000 booths. What’s %age?”

Twitter users were quick to slam him, even suggesting that he retire from politics. O’Brien, Trinamool MP, also tweeted that “the CPM and BJP are now so desperate that they are even ganging up with Maoists to kill/shoot/stab three Trinamool workers in different incidents in Bengal”. People on Twitter did not take kindly to this too. While some harked back to his days as a quizmaster, others questioned his logic. The Trinamool Congress has spent the last few days defending itself, as the state machinery has also been attacked for its inability to hold violence-free polls.

It issued a statement denying any role in the clashes, also stating that “the administration today helped the Election Commission and nobody got involved in any instigation”.

“People have exercised their rights in polling stations today. A few isolated incidents have taken place, however, which All India Trinamool Congress neither wanted nor supported… A few of our supporters were badly injured. But, across the length and breadth of the state, our supporters were the model of tolerance,” it stated.

“The allegation made against us regarding the incident in Kakdwip is untrue. At no time is death welcome. So, be it any party, death of a worker is always a sad event. The BJP is involved in a dirty game. The way it brought in people from Bangladesh, Assam and Jharkhand to create trouble in border regions is extremely reprehensible and in this, it has indirectly taken the help of the BSF, which is under the control of the central government. It was shown on TV how BSF personnel were trying to influence voters standing in queues for casting votes,” the statement said.

The party added that it has written to the Election Commission “to investigate how the BSF engaged in these activities without any permission from the state government”.