“Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
And the general sat”
A state resembling a war zone, an unfortunate transformation from being the cultural hub to goonda land. The 1973 Roger Waters’ creation aptly resonates why West Bengal wears the cloak of violence during elections. United almost always, divided by a bunch of power hungry politicians. Strangely, violence isn’t a new entrant to Bengal politics, it’s always been the focal point during Left rule and now it has dominated the narrative under the 'Maa, Mati and Manush' regime. But what I witnessed while covering the last phase of polls in Bengal has not only saddened me but has left me shocked. Is this the democracy Didi has been talking about, raising her voice for? Is this why she sat on dharnas at the drop of a hat? I don’t wish to pass a judgment, but I’d request you to make up your mind after reading my experience as I tried to hunt for stories in Diamond Harbour– the constituency from where Mamata’s apparent heir Abhishek Banerjee is contesting.
I deliberately decided to report from this rather unexposed constituency because of rumours which were flying thick and fast of a possible attack on two broadcast channels if they travelled to Diamond Harbour. I was curious. Why should we or anyone be stopped from covering elections in any part of the country? I was determined to find out what was transpiring in this high profile constituency.
I started my journey around 6 am from New Alipore. Within a few hours I entered Diamond Harbour. Areas like Bishnupur from where reports of communal disharmony had emerged ahead of the polls were largely peaceful when I reached on the polling day. While I was in Bishnupur, I received information that citizens in Falta area were being prevented from casting their votes. I immediately decided to reach Falta. While I was moving from one polling booth to the other, I did not find a single TV channel, national or regional, covering the polls in this constituency.
It was around 12:45 PM when we were crossing Sujapur area when we noticed chaos outside a polling booth. Women were running out, visibly threatened. As I walked towards the polling booth, I was shocked to see a CISF personnel being mercilessly beaten up by goons who had captured the booth. One CISF officer heckled by over 30-35 goons but no one stepped forward to help, no one dared to stop these goons. I tried speaking to some of the people who were running out of the polling booth and what I found was that this was nothing but a brazen attempt to rig the polls. Picture this.
Witness 1: We went to vote, but they didn't let us
Shawan Sen, Sr News Editor: Why? What happened?
Witness 1: We were standing in the queue but they are not letting us.
Witness 1: God knows what's happening.
Witness 2: Are we living in free India?
Shawan: What happened?
Witness 2: BJP supporters are being thrown out by the party members. They are not even obeying the CRPF.
Shawan: What happened?
Witness 3: They came and shut down the booth
Witness 3: Don't know who are they, the people who were standing here?
These are not isolated cases, and it doesn’t end here. there were no open cameras, there was no question of any kind of influence, I caught these voices as they were rushing out of the booth.
People talking: They aren't letting Hindus vote...(inaudible)
Reporter: What happened?
Voter(M): They are throwing people out, those who aree going to vote?
Voter(M): They are throwing Hindus out, denying them to vote.
Voter(M): Yes, there's something going on. they aren't allowing us to vote.
Reporter: What did they say?
Voter(M): They said, 'You don't have to vote, our men will vote.'
Reporter: Did you go to vote?
Voter(M): Yes, I did. my elder daughter-in-law and my mother went to vote. They sent them away too.
Reporter: Who were they?
Voter(M): My mother.
Reporter: No, who were those people who stopped you?
Voter(M): Inaudible..(video ends abruptly)
As I was speaking to some of the disappointed voters, I spotted my video journalist being gheraoed by a bunch of young boys who must have been in their 20s. Agitated, angry, punching blows at my cameraperson, they snatched his phone. I could hear one of them say in Bengali, “You want to record this. We will not let you go from here. Give me your phone.”
They then ran towards me. Heckled and punched me, broke my glasses, the glass shard injured my lower eyelid but not a single police personnel came to our rescue. Not one person bothered to make an attempt at stopping the mob from attacking us.
We somehow managed to escape and walked towards our car when we met a few people who were lamenting about the current state of affairs in Bengal. I was determined to record their voice so that the nation gets to know what really transpired barely 20 kms from Kolkata. This is what they had to say:
Witness 1: Yes, we are thinking where are the reporters now? Why aren't they here? Whatever they are doing sir, honestly, it is difficult to tolerate. they are treating us like their shoe. Since morning they have been doing this. They didn’t allow us to stand in the queue, they have set goons in the streets to stop us from voting.
Shawan: Since how long?
Witness 2: Since 9 o'clock they are doing this. Goons are following us to the booth, confining us from all sides and then directing us to vote.
Shawan: Have you guys voted?
Witness 2: Yes, we all did.
Shawan: Will you talk to us covering your face?
Witness 3: Yes, we are ready.
Shawan: Yes, let's move out of here and then talk, come let's sit in the car.
Witness 3: They are not letting us vote.
Around three men mustered the courage to speak to us. I decided to take them to a safer location and get them to speak on camera. It was heart-wrenching to hear their story. They lived in fear. They were disenfranchised. They and several others have been denied their right to vote, they haven’t been able to participate in India’s dance of democracy. All this, just because a bunch of power hungry netas have decided to cross all boundaries. So while they enjoy their luxurious lives, their goons unleash fear and bloodbath on the common man. Shouldn’t we outrage about this? Shouldn’t we worry when democracy is murdered in this manner? Shouldn’t the media be equally ashamed for deliberately ignoring the plight of many? Bengal deserves an answer and its politicians must stop firing from the rear.