Violence in West Bengal Elections-A Primer

  • Know of fatalities during elections since 2003, reasons for economic decline of State, why culture of political violence & central security forces could not protect and Art 356 is not easily invoked?

Repeated violence during elections in West Bengal, this time Panchayat, has dominated the national discourse. In fact, elections and violence in West Bengal (short WB) have become synonymous.


This article covers fatalities during elections since 2003 including panchayat, reasons for economic decline, why culture of political violence and central security forces could not protect and Article 356.


Table 1 - Which political party ruled West Bengal since Independence?



Chief Minister

Aug 1947-Feb 1967


P C Ghosh etc.


United Front




P C Ghosh

Feb 1968-Feb 1969

President Rule


Feb 1969-March 1970

United Front


March 1970-April 1971

June 1971-March 1972

President Rule



Congress(PD Alliance)

S S Ray


Communist Party (Marxists)

Jyoti Basu

Nov 2000-May 2011



May 2011 onwards

Trinamool Congress

Mamta B

Source Wikipedia


From February to November 1967 A K Mukherjee headed a United Front government that consisted of the Communists and Socialists with Jyoti Basu as Deputy CM. The Naxalbari rebellion of 1967 was a communist movement that had ramifications across states and was partly fuelled by unemployment, continued exploitation of rural peasantry and disillusionment with Independence. With the first ever state government in WB, the Communists began challenging the dominance of the Congress. Thus, violent clashes between the two parties became routine.


S S Ray of the Congress headed a Progressive Democratic Alliance government from 1972-1977. The President’s Rule in 1971-1972 was more because of the violent situation in East Pakistan or today’s Bangladesh and its impact on WB. For the first twelve odd months Mamata B headed a coalition government of Trinamool and the Congress till Trinamool quit the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in September 2012.  


Thus in 75 years post independence, WB was ruled by the Congress for 25 years, Communists for 34 years and Trinamool for 12. Each of them is responsible for the present. A Bengali observer says that WB of today is like Bihar of the 1990s when Laloo Yadav was Chief Minister (CM). 


WB’s economy started moved southwards due to British policies and famines. Post independence the Congress in the Centre’s reduced the state’s share of jute export duty which was the main cash crop of WB. Disillusionment with achievements post independence and due to communist rule the labour situation was beginning to get out of hand starting the mid-1960s. Read more about WB’s step-motherly treatment


Monidipa Bose wrote in Firstpost, “As the famous industrialist, BM Birla, said at the Delhi Press Club (July 1970), it was the Central Government that was “mainly responsible for the lack of growth of industries in West Bengal. The Left that replaced the Congress fared even worse, and ‘capital flight’ from West Bengal continued. This caused widespread joblessness and general unrest that was further worsened by the violent trade union politics of the left regime which took a staunch anti-industry stand, particularly attacking the medium and small industries operating in the state. When the TMC, led by Chief Minister Mamata B, came to power in 2011, nothing changed.” 


I distinctly remember the flight of India Inc. from Kolkata in the 1970’s. Today ITC Ltd and perhaps Bata are the only corporates having a national presence that are headquartered in Kolkata. However, ITC’s non-cigarette businesses work outside Kolkata. 


When I worked for a Kolkata based company in the 1990s found it strange that employees were always looking for holidays due to bandhs, strikes etc.


A Bengali professional working in Mumbai says, “The commies ripped the soul out of Bengal, impoverished its mind and body. And then Mamta killed its soul with street tactics. Many clear sighted thinking Bengalis left Bengal. Spiritual leaders come out of nourishment of mind, body and soul. Rise of electricity cuts, lack of jobs, despondency, street politics and political sloganeering substituted preaching and enlightenment.”


For how long will Bengalis blame the British, Congress, Communists and Trinamool?   They need to drive the change. 


How long can Bengalis live with the pride of giving India Vande Mataram, Swami Vivekananda and Noble Laureates, both the living winners reside outside WB. 


Read Why has Bengal stopped producing great leaders


Bose also wrote, “However recently, what is looking even more dangerous is the addition of religious killings under the garb of political violence that has been taking place in West Bengal, owing to the huge demographic changes (mostly through illegal immigrants).”

Violence in Pirgachha panchayat of North 24 Parganas. Courtesy Indian Express.

Table 2 - Lives lost in West Bengal Elections

2003 Panchayat Left


2008 Panchayat Left




2018 Panchayat


2023 Panchayat


   Total Killed Panchayat


2016 Assembly


2021 Assembly


2021 Post Assembly elections


2019 Lok Sabha


   Total Killed 



2003/2008/2013 Panchayat Source The Telegraph 2018 Panchayat-19 killed on polling day and 14 killed since elections announced. Source The Telegraph This Indian Express report puts the number at 43 2023 Panchayat 18 killed on polling day and 19 since elections announced. Source Hindustan Times Due to violence post 2021 assembly elections many BJP workers crossed over to Dhuri in Assam. *2021 and 2019 fatalities as per Indian Express


 According to a July 13 Hindustan Times report the toll is 48 not 37 as mentioned above. Source Thus, total lives lost is 306 not 295 as above.

In 2016 the Trinamool won 34 per cent of the seats without any opposition. Tells you about the state of democracy in West Bengal. 


Wish published data on political killings in West Bengal were all in one place. Collating from newspaper reports could affect data accuracy. Plus many killings go unreported.


Such violence is noticed by Courts. The Calcutta High Court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the violence after May 2, 2021 (when assembly election results were declared). According to this NIE report of January 2022, CBI submitted its report to the HC. Also read CBI Press Release of 4.1.2022


A 60 year old woman who was raped in front of her grandson moved the Apex Court in June 2021. Her plea was the appointment of an SIT to probe the case. Source A search revealed the matter was adjourned to June 18, 2021 where Justice Indira Banerjee recused herself from hearing this petition and asked the registry to list it before a different bench. Source A February 2022 report states that CBI filed an FIR against Trinamool leader in this case. Source


We are in July 2023. Can the learned update about convictions?


Former President Mukherjee said in 2016, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Delays reduce the fear of law in the minds of miscreants.  


Sadly electoral reforms introduced by then Chief Election Commissioner Seshan benefitted Bihar and U.P. but eluded WB. Political Commentator Sandip Ghosh says that political violence in WB has got normalized over the years-it does not affect the Liberals/Bhadraloks of Kolkata who are silent.

Bose also wrote, “As per the National Crime Records Bureau data, 47 political killings have likely taken place in West Bengal after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, of which 38 are said to be reported from South Bengal.”

Rangana Sen, the presiding officer of booth number 147 of Rajchandrapur village in Mayureshwar panchayat of Birbhum district said these words in a tearful voice. Pic courtesy Bangla AajTak.  

 To hear Rangana Sen words  

If the killings reported in table 2 above were in Gujarat or Punjab one could expect a flurry of Public Interest Litigations in the Supreme Court.

Table 3 - How many lives lost in Panchayat election as on July 8, 2023?

District & Party






24 Parganas-TMC



Cooch Bihar-BJP






Purdah Bardhanam-TMC



Same-CPI (M)



Uttar Dinajpur-TMC



Uttar Dinajpur-Congress









District details unknown



Deaths as per TOI/HT



  Details of 12 per this Indian Express report  Latest report says death toll 20


Of the 12, two were Hindus. Most of the violence was in South Bengal. 


Political violence in WB is exceptional. In its intensity and form, it has no parallel elsewhere in India. Such violence impacts the state’s economy, employment, distribution of resources, governance systems adversely.


Read They rained bombs, looted booths


Are the killings in some districts because of the substantial presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in them? Table 4 shows the rise in Muslim population in some districts. This point is worth investigating. When they come to India, they are a minority and beneficiaries of numerous government schemes.   


Table 4 - Percentage of Muslim Population in border districts.                                     





24 Parganas

West Dinajpur































Note: * 24 Parganas was divided into North and South 24-Parganas, hence the figures are not comparable.


The infiltration and population percentages would only have increased since 2011.


Read Bangladeshi infiltration into West Bengal


Why are Panchayat Elections important?

The Communist government introduced rural reforms. This empowered rural local self-governing bodies-the panchayats and gave them substantial resources. Thus, it became important to control the panchayats, to control direction of spending, making it a source of political influence.  


Vibhuti Sanchala wrote in Firstpost, “A strong panchayat is one that denies residents any other access to the State’s levers and restricts access to them. Unfortunately, this urge to show social control also leads to a demonstration of violent tendencies, according to the report. The outlet explained why this reasoning is crucial for the state’s election outcomes. During the CPM’s rule in West Bengal, using violence to win elections became commonplace. And the party held power in the state for a sizable period of time.” 


Who appoints the State Election Commissioner in this case Shri Rajiva Sinha?

If it is the Governor of the state then he should be held accountable for the SEC conduct. If the Governor appoints the SEC on the advice of the Council of Ministers, the Chief Minister should be held accountable.


The moot point is who is the Governor or CM accountable to for the acts of omission and commission of the SEC? Can someone enlighten?


If the Supreme Court can direct the High Courts, can the Chief Election Commissioner direct the SEC?


Could Central Forces have prevented the killings?

The Kolkata High Court ordered the State Election Commission (SEC) to deploy 822 companies of central forces along with 70,000 state police personnel to oversee the process.


According to an interview given to Times Now by DIG BSF S S Guleria, they had written to the State Election Commission asking for a list of sensitive booths (names and locations) and stated in meeting too. He said that in order to ensure better planning the list should have been shared well in advance. The reply came on July 7, one day before the poll. It said go to districts, ask the Superintendent of Police will tell you which booth is sensitive. He said that there was some delay in arrival of security forces because of non-availability of trains and also said the number of sensitive booths, at 4,834, were underestimated.


Since the SEC knows best about how many and which booths the sensitive, could the polling date have been postponed by a few days by which time adequate central forces would have arrived?


Under the Constitutional mechanism of holding elections, who is responsible for non-deployment of central security forces? The SEC, the Ministry of Home Affairs or state government! Hope responsibility is fixed. Higher judiciary may please stay out of this.   


Can the Central government dismiss the state government under Article 356 of the Constitution?

Under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, “If the President, on receipt of report from the Governor of a State or otherwise is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in provisions of this Constitution, the President may be Proclamation” vest powers in the Governor or any body or authority in the State other than the Legislature or declare that powers of the Legislature be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament.


Due to its misuse by central governments the Supreme Court (SC) has come down heavily on the centre. So dismissal of any state government is best done with the prior concurrence of the SC. It is the responsibility of the government of the day to make out a strong case.


Currently, there are repeated breakdowns of law and order during successive elections. Plus successive state governments, have in the last few decades, tacitly supported flow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This is changing demographics not only in WB but across India and is bound to create social unrest sooner than later.


Law and Order is a State subject therefore the Centre has limitations in intervening directly. However, the BJP needs to learn from the Congress how to exercise power in such situations.  

Politically speaking, Trinamool wants the Centre to dismiss its government so it can play the victim card and gives the Opposition a rallying point. The BJP is stuck with Jai Sri Ram in the land of Shakti and failed to communicate its point of view on WB countrywide. Do they miss someone of Arun Shourie’s calibre? 


West Bengalis are highly liberal and gifted people. Yet for decades they are unable to prevail upon their state government to hold peaceful elections?

There is already a flight of talent from WB. If things are not reversed soon, India might lose South Bengal forever.  

What is the way forward?

1. Revival of Development that will generate positivity, jobs and increase incomes.

2. For 1 to happen, need Law and Order.

3. Flow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh needs to stop (including Rohingyas).

4. WB needs leaders who are rooted in Bengali culture yet committed to a development agenda bereft of freebies.


For geopolitical reasons, it appears the BJP has decided to put the problem of illegal infiltration on the backburner. They are postponing finding a solution to a problem i.e. magnifying by the day.  


Utmost care is taken in culling out data. Errors if any are without intent or malafide intent. The deeper intent is to share data and insights, not provoke. This article must not be republished without permission of esamskriti.


Om Shanti Shanti Shanti  

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