Two suspected political murders in Bengal involving BJP workers exemplify how perilous the state has become for those not affiliated to the ruling Trinamool Congress dispensation. In the first instance from Purulia district last week, BJP worker Trilochan Mahato was found hanging from a tree. Written on his T-shirt was the chilling message that he was killed for participating in BJP politics. Days later, another BJP worker Dulal Kumar was found dangling from a high tension electric tower. His family alleged Dulal was killed by Trinamool workers.
While the state government has tried to downplay the murders – even claiming one of them was a suicide – BJP has demanded a CBI probe. The murders also come on the heels of particularly violent panchayat polls that witnessed open hooliganism by Trinamool members. Several opposition candidates weren’t even allowed to file their nominations for the polls. All of this indicates Bengal politics today is intolerant of anyone associated with opposition parties.
In that sense, murders of opposition workers in Bengal are akin to cow slaughter lynchings in BJP-ruled states in north India. In both cases, lumpen elements feel they enjoy impunity and the political environment encourages this. In both cases, state governments fail in their first duty of upholding rule of law. A related development is how politics has become a means of livelihood in Bengal. Given the decrepit state of the economy, the only way a large number of youths can eke out a living is by joining a political party. And it is at this level that competition over control of money spinning extortionate or illegal economic activity can become bloody.
Despite Trinamool having a clear edge over its rivals in the panchayat polls, certain pockets saw considerable violence. For example, illegal sand mining is rife in Birbhum, Hooghly and Purulia districts while illegal coal mining has spawned a parallel economy in the Asansol-Raniganj belt. Murshidabad is a hotbed for narcotics and cattle smuggling continues unabated in Malda. Many of these areas saw the fiercest contests in panchayat polls. Add to this the history of political violence in Bengal, and we have a volatile cocktail. Unless law and order is allowed to function in a non-partisan manner and political violence curbed, Bengal will never be able to pull itself out of the economic morass it finds itself in.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.