Political violence has continued in West Bengal even after the Lok Sabha polls. During the Parliamentary polls, the TMC ruled state witnessed several incidents of violence and even BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow had been attacked. The violence has continued even after the Lok Sabha polls and the state seems to be on the edge. Fresh violence on Saturday claimed another four lives. Post-poll violence has already claimed around a dozen lives in the state thus far. The BJP is rising as a crucial power in the state and for the TMC it has obviously become a matter of prestige. Ever since political violence became the order of the day in the TMC ruled state, it has been argued that imposition of President’s rule is an imminent necessity in the state.
Now, the West Bengal Governor has also spoken about the political violence in the state and the possibility of imposing President’s rule. West Bengal Governor, Keshari Nath Tripathi spoke exclusively to India Today and said that he has apprised PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah about the situation prevailing in West Bengal. On being asked if he thought that there was a need to impose President’s rule in the state, the Governor said that there might be. However, the Governor also added that during his meeting with PM Modi and Home Minister Shah, he didn’t discuss anything about the imposition of President’s rule in the state.
While analysing the issue of political violence and law & order failures in West Bengal, one must be careful not to look at them only with reference to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the post-results period. This issue has been plaguing the state for quite some time now. During the West Bengal Panchayat elections in 2018, the thugs of Trinamool Congress (TMC) had unleashed terror to prevent the opposition candidates from filing nominations.
Massive political violence took place in these elections and the people were threatened. The Calcutta High Court had to intervene and extend the deadline for submission of nominations but the TMC had already won many seats by preventing the opposition candidates from filing nominations. The death toll due to the electoral process had stood at 29.
During the Lok Sabha polls, the stakes were obviously much higher; the party in power in Bengal, therefore, made use of muscle power to deny the people their democratic rights and hence achieve electoral benefits through unlawful tactics. The election season was too fraught with arbitrary arrests, booth capturing, clashes and violence allegedly perpetrated by the ruling party, aided by the state machinery. The Mamata Banerjee led government in the state of West Bengal has clearly failed to maintain the law and order situation in the state. Moreover, the way booth capturing and other forms of political violence were actively used against the residents of West Bengal, has clearly shown that there is a total breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state.
According to Article 356 of the constitution, on the recommendation of the Governor, a state can come under President’s rule in case of failure of constitutional machinery in the state. It basically implies the failure of the state to uphold the constitutional provisions in the state, thus giving rise to a difficult situation, demanding immediate action. In such a situation, since the state couldn’t function, the Central government will take direct control of the state machinery.
However, to prevent the misuse of the Article, the Supreme Court under S.R Bommai case gives a set of guidelines to adhere to, in order to implement President’s rule in the state.
Out of all the situations underlined, the imposition of President’s rule in West Bengal would be proper in the following:
- Internal subversion where, for example, a government is deliberately acting against the Constitution and the law or is fomenting a violent revolt.
- Physical breakdown where the government willfully refuses to discharge its constitutional obligations endangering the security of the state.
According to the provisions, in order to put the state under President’s rule, the state government should have created a situation wherein the security of the state is being endangered due to an action or inaction of the state. Mamata Banerjee has not only failed to discharge her obligations as a chief minister but has also actively participated in threatening the security of the citizens in the state.
Taking a look at the atrocities committed by TMC, the poll time incident involving BJP president Amit Shah tops the list. Amit Shah was conducting a roadshow in Kolkata, when the event witnessed violence as his convoy was attacked with stones and arson by TMC supporters, triggering a clash between supporters of the two parties. Amit Shah stated that the West Bengal Police did not do anything to ensure the safety of BJP workers. Such was the level of discourse that Amit Shah stated that if CRPF was not there, he could not have survived the violence.
While this was a direct attack on a national leader, the voters and residents of the state were not safe either. Incidents of booth capture, smashing of electronic voting machines (EVM), intimidation of voters and malfunctioning of EVMs were the highlight of the West Bengal elections. Amit Shah stated, “In the last six phases, only Bengal has witnessed violence.” He further pointed to the strangeness of the situation wherein only West Bengal witnessed political violence during the elections and that happens to be the only state with a TMC stronghold. The rest of the country underwent peaceful polling.
Not just the violent unrest, even the fundamental rights were blatantly violated by the Mamata Banerjee dispensation in the state which led to arbitrary arrests. A woman named Priyanka Sharma was arrested following a criminal complaint filed against her by a local TMC leader because she shared a meme about Mamata Banerjee on Facebook. Even though Sharma was not guilty, she was asked to issue a written apology to Mamata Banerjee for the offence caused to her. However, the honourable court later waived the apology condition.
Journalists and caricaturists draw cartoons of leaders all the time, a part and parcel of the wide freedom to speech and expression guaranteed by the constitution. Mamata Banerjee, however, considers herself above the constitution and went on to curtail the basic rights of an individual, attacking the democratic fabric, which forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.
Article 356 of the Constitution of India should not be seen only as a power with the Centre, but also an important responsibility to protect the state from breakdown of constitution machinery. There has been a clear breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state of West Bengal as elucidated above, and while the Governor has apprised them about the situation in the state, it is now for the Modi government to decide upon the future course of action.