The death of five persons, including four in firing by Central security personnel, during the fourth phase of polling in West Bengal on Saturday underlines the fact that the high-stakes battle between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP has violently turned into a free-for-all. Even as the level of the electoral discourse has been abysmally low all along, the loss of lives has heightened concerns about the safety of the voters, the polling staff and also the troops.
With four phases of the elections still left, it will be an uphill task for the Election Commission (EC) to ensure that peace prevails in the state over the next three weeks or so. The EC’s decision to debar politicians from entering trouble-torn Cooch Behar district for 72 hours is expected to help in defusing the tense situation. More such stern steps are needed to send the message that the EC is firmly in charge on the ground. A high-level, time-bound inquiry is a must to fix responsibility for the firing incident.
Mud-slinging is par for the course on the campaign trail, but things quickly spin out of control when political leaders incite their supporters to indulge in wrongful acts. The BJP has accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of instigating TMC workers to gherao Central forces and prevent them from doing their duty, while she claims that security personnel opened fire without any provocation at voters standing in a queue. State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh has warned that more Cooch Behar-like killings may happen in the next phase of the Assembly elections on April 17 if ‘naughty boys like the ones who died’ try to take the law into their hands. Such irresponsible statements that add fuel to the fire must neither be condoned nor ignored by the party top brass as well as the EC. Leaders of both the TMC and the BJP should exercise restraint in their words and deeds so that the electoral process can be conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner.