On 12 April 2021, ‘Bengal Against Fascist RSS-BJP’— a citizens platform spearheading the ‘No Vote to BJP’ campaign in West Bengal, had called a protest rally against the killings of five villagers and grievous injury to many others by the CISF Jawans in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district of North Bengal. On 10 April, the central forces deployed and monitored by the Election Commission to conduct violence free polls, shot dead 4 villagers, who they alleged were part of a mob of miscreants, which tried to snatch away their weapons and tamper with the poll process.
On the other hand, the testimonies of the villagers, a fact finding report by a human rights organization, reports from the media, all suggest that the CISF fired live bullets on unarmed villagers. Even if there was some trouble, the order to shoot without restoring to other non-lethal methods of mob control, and the fact that no CISF personnel was injured, implies it was not just an extreme overreaction but a criminal action by the trigger-happy central police force.
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The protest rally started from under Vidyasagar Statue, opposite Calcutta University in College Street and culminated at Shyambazar Metro station. Participants in the rally, while condemning the unprovoked firing on unarmed villagers also called out the BJP leader’s statements justifying the killings by central force, as an act of desperation and an despicable attempt to use the killings of Muslim youths to further polarise votes on communal lines. Most were critical of the role of the Election Commission, a constitutional body supposed to conduct a free and fair election. They criticized the EC for acting as an extension of the BJP arms. They alleged that the EC during the course of this election has even pulled down the mask of pretending neutrality, and has turned this election into an ‘ut-shav’ (festival of corpses) and democracy into ‘bulletocracy’. Many expressed surprise and dismay at the statements issued by CPIM leaders, which like the BJP, held Mamata Banerjee responsible for instigating the villagers which led to the killings.
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Slogans raised in the rally accused the Union Home Minister for the massacre and the conveners of the campaign platform, while addressing the gathering, held the EC responsible for the deaths of unarmed voters and asked the people to not cast a single vote to BJP in the ongoing elections.
On April 13, members of the platform submitted a memorandum to the EC, which, categorically stated that ‘this state killings has not only blatantly violated the Article 21 of Constitution of India, but also violated all international human right laws, directions, principals and declarations in respect of use of lethal weapons including firearms, to which India is a signatory nation’. The memorandum pointed out the attempts by the EC to justify the killings as an act in self-defence by the forces, even before ascertaining the factual truth of the incident, as mockery of justice.
The platform also drew the attention of the EC to the provoking utterances by various senior BJP leaders, threatening more killings like Sitalkuchi by central forces in the upcoming phases of the elections. The EC has the power to take suo moto cognisance of such speeches openly provoking and threatening violence, and debar such persons from campaigning. If the EC does not take immediate action in those matters, the ‘NO Vote To BJP’ campaign will hit the streets in coming days, organize further protests and demonstrations to expose the EC-BJP nexus.
Though poll related violence has been normalised by ruling class parties in West Bengal, Sitalkuchi incident and the reaction of the EC shows the extent to which these institutions has been hollowed out by the current regime. It is foolish to expect that central forces under the command of the Union Home Ministry will act in an impartial way when an all out war to capture power in West Bengal for his party is led by the home minister himself.
First published in groundxero.in
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