State level consultation on Electoral Democracy and Political Parties, at Kolkata
On the day when Article 370 and Jammu and Kashmir bifurcation issue was being discussed across India, the West Bengal Chapter of all Indian political parties were having a brainstorming session on other recent important issues including One Nation One Election, amendments to the Right To Information (RTI) Act and Electoral Bonds.
A state-level consultation on Electoral Democracy and Role of Political Parties had been organised by West Bengal Election Watch (WBEW), Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) and the Institute for Motivating Self Employment (IMSE) at Kolkata.
The leaders of political parties who participated included, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC), Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Communist Party of India, Socialist Unity Centre of India, Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party.
Interestingly, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) did not send any representative for the consultation event. Nobody was present from Communist Party of India (Marxist) as well, however, the party had conveyed earlier to the organisers that they wouldn’t be able to participate as the day was coinciding with the founder of Communist Party of India – Muzaffar Ahmed’s Birth Anniversary Celebration which was being organised at their party office.
The closed-door meeting between all major political parties of West Bengal and the civil society, which lasted for a couple of hours, saw the leaders and civil society engaging in a meaningful discussion.
Delivering the opening speech, Manoj Bhattacharjee, representing the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), raised several important questions including the Kashmir issue.
He said, “While RTI has been destroyed, there is so much secrecy shrouding the Kashmir issue at the moment. The central government needs to understand that decisions can’t just be imposed on the citizens. Given scenario is the best example of how democracy is being killed democratically.”
Taking on the centre’s decision to pass the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), he said, “The present situation is no different from the declared Emergency of 1975 when those questioning the government were simply put behind bars. Back then the slogan was Na Daleel Na Vakeel Na Appeal (No Arguments, No Lawyers, No Appeals). Today the situation is no better. In this era of a non-declared emergency, those questioning the government are branded as anti-national and now that this law has been passed, anyone who questions those in authority can be branded as a terrorist.”
Congress party’s Sukhbilash Berma talked about the amendments in RTI, “Our party had only enacted the RTI act, we must remember that no act is perfect. But, the present government instead of making amendments to better the law, have chosen to weaken it.”
While most of the participating party representatives were seen openly questioning the need for One Nation One Election theory, BJP West Bengal’s vice president, Joyprakash Majumdar maintained, “Most of the political parties seem to be raising this issue, there is no reason to panic. It’s not like it will be implemented today. It will happen only after much needed political discussion and debate.”
An excited Majumdar was also heard saying during his speech, “The civil society always rallies strongly behind Amartya Sen if something is said against him. But they never support other intellectuals. They will question about lynching and other issues but will never question the intentions of Tukde Tukde Insha Allah gang.”
However, when Tanmay Ghosh from Banga Sanskriti Manch countered him on his comment, he quickly said, “By that, I didn’t mean the Muslims who respect the Indian Constitution and love the nation. I didn’t mean to label any particular community.”
After the event was over, speaking to eNewsroom, Dr Ujjaini Halim, State Coordinator of WBEW, said, “It was a fruitful consultation between the political parties and civil society. And it was apparent that most of the political parties, barring one, were against the One Nation One Election concept. Many also raised questions on how this policy could do away with the federal government structure of the Indian democracy.”