The Centre will deploy over 71,000 security personnel to ensure violence-free elections.
Many would struggle to pronounce it and many more, would break a sweat before rightly pointing it out on the map. And a huge lot more – from local officials to party workers to amateur tea-peddling psephologists on the streets of Kolkata to my friends from kindergarten days – are ill at ease to talk about Ghatal’s big fight in the sixth and penultimate phase of India’s grand election.
If this wasn’t election time in India, then this sleepy town in the low-lying, flood-prone belt of Midnapore in West Bengal wouldn’t have been news for even the locals Bengalis of this state of little over 90 million. But then this isn’t just any other ‘business-as-usual’ time and so this isn’t any longer a quaint small town once known for its cotton and Bengal’s famous tussar silk.
About three-hour drive from Kolkata via a stretch of the NH16 that runs along at least three other states of India’s east coast, this nondescript city -once a major Dutch establishment and the birthplace of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance- is today on the edge thanks to arguably one of Bengal’s biggest election fights in 2019 between an upbeat and onrushing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the quietly confident Trinamool Congress (TMC), between an ex-aide of Bengal’s de-facto ruler and a popular sitting MP, between a former top cop and one of Bengal’s highest paid actors.
And the run up to the ‘fight night’ between Bharati Ghosh and Deepak Adhikary, more popular as Dev to his fans, has been splintered by threats and counter-threats of violence and apparent lawlessness that many say represents the precarious situation Bengal is in right now – with news and videos of teachers, officials and party workers being beaten up surfacing regularly across the state. Something that’s led even the Election Commission’s special observer Ajay V Nayak to draw comparisons with Bihar of “10-15 years ago”. And much of it, people say, is how the narrative of aggression has changed hands from TMC to BJP through Ghosh, a former IPS officer and once a close aide of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Harvard-educated and former UN peacekeeper, Ghosh was pivotal in cracking down on the red brigade in Bengal’s infamous Jungle Mahal (the forested areas of Bengal infested by Maoists) and bringing Trinamool to power in the state, for the first time, in 2011 after three decades of leftist rule.
Famous for decimating the Maoists donning skin-tight khaki police uniform and sporting black shades, she is today leading an aggressive, no-holds-barred election campaign to shoot down Dev in his Lok Sabha MP reelection bid in his own constituency of over 1.6 million electors that was once a bastion of the left.
And a lot of her campaign is focused on taking the attack to her rival camp by accusing them of destroying democracy and the law and order in the state while herself intimidating everyone who comes in her way with violence – including police officers and Trinamool workers who she has even threatened to beat up “like dogs”. “I will bring 1,000 goons from Uttar Pradesh and drag TMC workers out of their houses to beat them up like dogs (sic)”, she said recently.
But who’s going to beat whom and which dog will have his day? Some say Bengal is plunging to new lows every day while some feel Bengal needs to be purged of its current evils to rise again. To them Ghosh is just giving an old party ‘a taste of its own medicine’ and it doesn’t matter if Bengal burns now for they hope it will rise above violence and lawlessness, soon once again.
EC demands more security in eight constituencies
Just three days before the crucial sixth phase of polling for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the Centre has issued a notice to deploy 713 companies of the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and State Forces for election duty in the eight constituencies in West Bengal going to polls on May 12.
The Centre will deploy over 71,000 security personnel to ensure violence-free elections in Tamluk, Kanthi, Gathal, Jhargram, Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura and Bishnupur constituencies on Sunday.
After incidents of violence were witnessed in West Bengal in the previous phases, the Election Commission has ordered deployment of central forces in the place of West Bengal Police.