March 27 Baruipur – Jainul Abedin from Baruipur block is 26 years of age. Eight years have passed since he became eligible to vote. However, Jainul, a carpenter by trade, is yet to cast his vote in an election as his family is in the bad books of the ruling party in the state of West Bengal.
Baruipur block falls under South 24 Parganas district, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) stronghold. If one has the impression that exclusionary voting tactics are limited only to areas where the TMC holds sway, one may be proven wrong. The state’s northernmost districts like Cooch Behar might see similar trends due to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists.
Most of those affected by such tactics come from lower-income groups and thought it was prudent to keep mum on the issue rather than let it wreak havoc with their livelihood after having protested against it.
The following are some of the worst-affected districts where such underhand tactics are at play and are used by the ruling party to disenfranchise ordinary voters.
Purba Medinipur – The tactic was used in large areas of Khejuri, Nandigram, Bhagabanpur and Patashpur assembly segments over the last ten years or so. However, this time around, many are of the opinion that the antagonistic relationship between Mamata Banerjee – West Bengal CM and TMC supremo – and her former strongman Suvendu Adhikari will allow people to vote relatively freely.
South 24 Parganas – Even after four police officers of the district were transferred, subjugation persists in areas like Canning Purba (whole), Bishnupur (four panchayats), Falta (whole), Budge-Budge (four panchayats) Diamond Harbour (five panchayats) and Kultali (two panchayats) where even putting up posters has been prohibited by the ruling party. Here the BJP has provided new smartphones to each of their booth presidents, motorcycles to their mondal presidents and a jeep-mounted tableu for each assembly segment. This is apart from the cash doles to organise meetings.
West Medinipur – Large tracts of Jangal Mahal had been out of the purview of any opposition party but the BJP won seats here in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Voters do fear persecution if they go out to vote in parts of Chandrakona Road, Keshpur, Garhbeta and Shalboni.
Hooghly – Large areas in Arambagh, Kotulpur, Goghat and Khanakul have seen disenfranchisement and the situation persists.
North 24 Parganas – In the panchayat and urban local body elections after the Left Front government demitted office more than 40% of voters were not able to cast their votes in the districts. The 2018 gram panchayat polls saw the TMC winning 34% of its seats uncontested. However ever since TMC leaders jumped ship to the BJP, the gap was reduced in the 2019 General Elections which saw the latter winning Barrackpore. Mass scale disenfranchisement still persists at Shason, Haroa, and Amdanga, where ruling party hooligans held sway until the formation of the ISF.
Birbhum – Mass scale disenfranchisement is seen at Labhpur, Nanoor, areas near the Ajay River and even partly in Saithia. Here the illegal sand mining syndicate finances operations of the ruling party to disenfranchise common citizens during elections.
In Malda, Murshidabad and North and South Dinajpur the problem exists at the village level as several agricultural labourers have complained in each poll after 2011 that were not allowed to vote as they were Left supporters.
Interestingly, in Cooch Behar the TMC has complained that their supporters are not being able to vote due to the BJP. The district’s TMC leaders have switched over in an area where the party’s terror writ large earlier. Few opposition supporters were allowed to vote or were threatened with dire consequences if they didn’t choose the TMC.
Jalpaiguri and Purulia have been relatively peaceful, but not Bankura, which saw agricultural labourers from the are being targetted for voting for the Left. Police officials from the area were changed after the Election Commission took note but doubts persists.
The first phase of polling in West Bengal is underway.