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Courts came down heavily on Mamata govt over rampant post-poll violence multiple times: What it says about the ‘liberal’ establishment

On 12th June, the Calcutta High Court issued an interim order extending the tenure of Central Forces deployed in Mamata Banerjee-ruled West Bengal given post-poll violence rampant in the state. Notably, West Bengal has a history of post-poll violence and in the last few elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (workers) have become a prime target of ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) goons.

A division bench comprising Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya came down heavily on the West Bengal government and said there is “no place for violence in the democratic polity”.

The court was hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by BJP leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Priyanka Tibrewal. They have sought judicial intervention given the widespread post-poll violence allegedly initiated by TMC goons against the members, supporters and workers of the BJP. The court highlighted the paramount importance of law and order in the electoral process and extended the stay of Central Forces in the state until 21st June 2024.

In the interim order, the court said, “The election ensures the majority opinion of the citizen of the country and its faith and allegiance to a political party to administer and maintain the various facets of the people for their betterment and development, which goes without saying that there is no space for any violence in a democratic polity.”

The court noted the serious nature of allegations levelled in the PILs and emphasised that there was a necessity to maintain security and peace in the state. The court also referred to a coordinate bench decision that established an email system for registering complaints linked to post-poll violence. The court noted that a significant number of complaints were received that there was a need for serious intervention.

During the hearing, the petitioners argued that the safety and security of many individuals were jeopardized after the election. Those who held opposing political views to that of the ruling party faced homelessness and fear for their lives. The Advocate General for the State questioned the locus standi of the petitioners. On the other hand, the Additional Solicitor General appearing on behalf of the central government acknowledged the reports of violence and assured the court that the Central Government was ready to extend the forces’ tenure if the court directed to do so.

The court in the interim order extended the tenure of the Central Forces in the state till 21st June 2024 to ensure the safety and security of the residents of the state given the post-poll violence.

Courts came down heavily on Mamata Govt over rampant post-poll violence multiple times

Post 2021 Assembly Elections

After the 2021 Assembly Elections, there was rampant violence across West Bengal. BJP supporters were assaulted and attacked. The Calcutta High Court ordered a court-monitored Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the post-poll violence. The court reprimanded the state administration for failing to curb the violence and protect citizens, emphasising the importance of maintaining law and order during elections.

A five-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, Justice IP Mukerji, Justice Harish Tandon, Justice Soumen Sen and Justice Subrata Talukdar pronounced the judgement in a batch of petitions alleging Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government’s inaction over the brutal acts of violence unleashed by members of ruling Trinamool Congress in the aftermath of assembly elections.

In its scathing order, the Calcutta High Court ordered that the High Court will monitor the CBI investigation into the post-poll violence in the state. “The Committee, NHRC, any other Commission or Authority, and the State shall immediately hand over entire record of the cases entrusted to the CBI for investigation. It is made clear that it shall be a Court-monitored investigation. Any obstruction in the course of investigation by anyone shall be viewed seriously”, the Calcutta High Court observed.

The High Court directed that a Special Investigation Team, under the monitoring of the Court, should investigate the other criminal cases related to post-poll violence. IPS officers Suman Bala Sahoo, Soumen Mitra and Ranbir Kumar of the West Bengal cadre have been made the members of the SIT. The working of SIT will be monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, the High Court said.

The court noted that in over 60% of the cases, no FIR was filed by the police. The Court has also ordered the West Bengal government to grant compensation for the victims of the post-poll violence immediately. In a major embarrassment to Mamata Banerjee-led government, the High Court rejected the allegations of bias against the National Human Rights Commission, a team of which had submitted a fact-finding report to the court as per its directions.

“The allegation of bias against the Committee is not material because this court has considered not only the report of the Committee but other materials as well and arguments of learned Counsel based thereon”, Justice IP Mukerji observed in his judgment.

Post 2023 Panchayat Elections

In June 2023, Calcutta High Court lambasted the Mamata Government for the large-scale violence that the state has been witnessing since the time the filing of poll nominations has begun for the Three-tier Panchayati Raj System in West Bengal, slated to be held on July 8.

Calcutta High Court judge Amrita Sinha tore into the ruling dispensation for turning a blind eye as the state grapples with continued violence and chaos. Expressing anger over continuing incidents of violence and clashes, she observed that the election should be stopped if the process involves so much violence, unrest and bloodshed and loss of lives. “The condition is such that in a Panchayat Election, there is so much unrest, violence and bloodshed. It’s a shame. What is the picture which is going out?” Justice Amrita Singh lambasted, adding that umpteen matter of rape, threats, violence and murder has come up for hearing in her court.

Political violence in West Bengal

Large-scale political violence has become synonymous with Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal. Year after year, whether it is during the Panchayat elections in 2018 or the Legislative Assembly elections in 2021 or the 2022 civic body polls, members of the ruling regime unleash unbridled violence to silence the opposition and dissenting voices.

What it says about the ‘liberal’ establishment

The repeated interventions by the courts in West Bengal post-poll violence cases show that there is a broader issue with the way so-called “liberal” establishments rule states. The consistent failure of the Mamata Banerjee-led government to prevent and control post-poll violence has raised serious questions over the commitment of the state government to democratic principles and the rule of law.

The incidents of violence have become frequent post-polls which is an indication that the state is okay with the political thuggery and there is no accountability whatsoever. The so-called secular-liberal establishment of West Bengal and the likes often champion human rights and democratic values. They falter when it comes to the implementation of these ideas within their jurisdictions. The deepening gap between rhetoric and reality undermines public trust and erodes the foundational principles of democracy.

Moreover, if the judiciary has to step in then there have to be systematic issues with the way the state manages law and order. The law enforcement agencies’ failure to control the violence shows there is some political pressure that stops them from fulfilling their duties towards the state residents. Merely because there are ideological differences between the supporters of the ruling party and the opposition, that does not give right to the former to attack, assault and force the latter to flee their homes.

There is a need to look into the deeper flaws of the “liberal” governments that sing songs of their commitments towards human rights and law & order but fail to execute them on the ground.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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