(Dr. Shankar Chatterjee)
Before discussing about issues related to the West Bengal Panchayat Elections, 2023, a few pieces of data about Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, and Zilla Parishad may be presented for the befit of readers. The total number of seats in the Gram Panchayat was 63229, and the total number of candidates contested was 170812. In the case of Panchayat Samiti (equivalent to Block level Panchayat) number of seats was 9,730, and contesting candidates were 1 31016. The same for Zilla Parishad were 928 (total seats) and 4467 (candidates), respectively. The recently held Panchayat election in West Bengal was most painful as more than 50 people died, many were injured, and many houses and vehicles were damaged. While watching heart-wrenching cries of near and dear whose close relatives were killed, I myself felt, “Are we human beings?’ Some ruling party leaders of the State cited law and order examples from ‘BIMARU’ states, someone spoke against the judiciary, and some highlighted recent ‘Manipur incidents’. But while own house is burning, I feel the ‘flame should be doused first’. I request the intellectuals, members of civil societies, NGOs, and other rational people of West Bengal please look at recent Assembly elections held in other States where violence virtually did not take place, and no death took place: Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh are examples. Anyway, it has to be agreed that once upon a time, many stalwarts in different fields came from the State, but now the worst type of violence in elections, corruption by some ruling party leaders, loose talk by leaders, etc., have scaled down the image of the State. It is pertinent to mention that filmmaker-activist Aparna Sen has written an open letter to Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of the State, holding her and her government responsible “for the violence in the panchayat polls that claimed 52 lives”. Most unfortunate and deplorable as well as ridiculous to the democracy was that in two places, ballot boxes were found in undesirable places. Two ballot boxes related to the July 8 panchayat elections were fished out from a pond located at Dalkhola in North Dinajpur district on July 28, 2023 (Friday). In another incident, in Nadia district, a ballot box from the pond of Nakashipara was found by the jute cultivators. I do not know how many such incidents will come up in the near future, but such incidents are shameful to a so-called ‘Culturally Advanced State’.