Political violence has been one of the unpleasant realities for West Bengal for decades. The intensity of it has varied across time, with the extent of violence generally building towards a crescendo as elections approach. The past six years have followed the general pattern of the previous decades. This time around, at the helm of affairs is Mamata Banerjee and her opposition is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The mainstream media has the tendency to ignore political violence that does not suit their narrative and it is not surprising that the targeted violence against BJP karyakartas has not received the attention that it deserves. Simultaneously, deaths in explosions during the manufacturing of explosives by men allegedly associated with the Trinamool Congress has failed to register itself in the national consciousness.
But anyone who has been following West Bengal politics in recent times is acutely aware that things under Mamata Banerjee are worse than ever before. Political violence has reached unprecedented levels, there’s great anguish among the people due to unprecedented levels of corruption and the closer we approach to state elections, the more tyrannical the Trinamool government’s methods appear to become.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that among certain quarters, calls are being made for the imposition of president’s rule in the state. Unsurprisingly, the ones making the demand are from the BJP. The calls appear to have become even shriller since state president of the party, Dilip Ghosh, was attacked by allegedly the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
Demands for President’s Rule in West Bengal
BJP leaders have been warning of president’s rule in the state for quite some time. Bishnupur MP Saumitra Khan said in October, “The way TMC is committing crimes and atrocities in West Bengal, President’s rule will be imposed in the state within four month’s time in December”. Similarly, Asansol MP Babul Supriyo remarked, “The recent chain of events — ranging from the attack on a Sikh community member, the arrest of al-Qaeda operatives to brazen murder of Manish Shukla and other political opponents — show that it is a fit case for imposition of Article 365 in West Bengal.”
Towards the end of October, Kailash Vijayvargiya, secretary general of the BJP, said that there was very little possibility of free and fair elections under Mamata Banerjee. He said, “It is my personal opinion that free and fair election is not possible there (West Bengal) without the imposition of President’s rule as politicisation of bureaucracy has happened in that state. It is ok up to that, but now criminalisation of bureaucracy has also happened there.”
Vijayvargiya, the state in-charge of the BJP for West Bengal, also said that Mamata Banerjee herself would be responsible for the imposition of president’s rule in the state. It also has to be borne in mind that Home Minister Amit Shah has himself said in the past that considering the deteriorating law and order situation in the state, opposition parties have every right to demand the imposition of president’s rule.
Things as they currently stand
Since then, however, the BJP appears to be changing its stand on the imposition of president’s rule. Dilip Ghosh has said that Mamata Banerjee herself wants president’s rule to be imposed in the state. Speaking to a TV channel, he said, ‘Mamata Banerjee herself wants (article) 356 to be implemented in the state. She is forcing the Central Government in order to play the victim card during the elections’.
Article 356 is invoked by the president and permits the president to assume any or all functions of the state government or the governor other than its legislature. Ghosh went on to add, ‘If Bengal is under President’s rule, it will give CM Mamata Banerjee the sympathy of the common people and it will benefit her in the assembly elections. At present, there is a big challenge before the BJP in Bengal.’ He further added, ‘Anti-incumbency factor will not make much difference if people get sympathy’.
Amit Shah, too, said recently, “Article 356 is not a public issue. It is a constitutional matter. The Central government takes a decision on it based on the governor’s report. There is no need to enforce Article 356 here as the government will change only in April. So on whom will it be done?” Thus, clearly, the tone appears to be changing.
Will president’s rule be imposed in West Bengal?
Without a shadow of a doubt, political violence in Bengal is at unprecedented levels. There have been numerous deaths of BJP karyakartas in recent years and things have reached a point where not even elected MLAs are safe.
A BJP MLA in West Bengal was found dead recently and the circumstances surrounding his death is shrouded in mystery. Thus, there are no valid grounds to blame the BJP if president’s rule were to be imposed in the state. But it is a political decision and political decisions are taken bearing in mind political consequences.
Dilip Ghosh is obviously correct that Mamata Banerjee may secretly want president’s role to be imposed in the state. It will give her the golden opportunity to blame all her incompetence and failures on the central government and claim that her government’s failure from the very beginning were a consequence of interference from the centre.
It will certainly award her with an opportunity to play the victim card. Amit Shah believes that the anti-incumbency factor is strong enough for the BJP to be able to register a victory in the state elections next year. Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that president’s rule will be imposed in the state. But things could change very quickly.
If the governor comes to believe that free and fair elections will be impossible to conduct in the state under the current ruling dispensation, then it appears extremely likely that he will recommend the imposition of president’s rule. Thus, it is only in the event of a radical escalation of violence from current levels on the part of the Trinamool government that president’s rule in the state will be deemed to be a necessity.