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And yet there was a fraught silence in the echo chambers of the political class as the “breaking news” of the Panchayat Election 2018 flitted across television screens. Despite being a pathfinder and harbinger of the three-tier structure of rural governance, the CPI-M will have to reconcile itself to the fact that it has been denied the opportunity to bring home its bacon.

The risk of murderous violence has faded, though it has not disappeared. As much as the outcome, the mayhem has been the striking feature of the tryst with democracy in the quangos. It was an election in which the street had far more influence than parties and politics.

Visuals of a woman in West Midnapore being garlanded with shoes by ruling party activists and then being forced to do sit-ups ~ for her alleged support to the BJP candidate ~ are a disgrace to the political ethics of a purportedly tolerant West Bengal.

This is not to forget the 19 killings on election day… and many more in the weeks since March. The results, therefore, shall not dim the awesome reality ~ the dance of democracy in rural Bengal assumed macabre dimensions on the day the votes were cast in a single-phase election.

Altogether, it showcased the bloody prologue to the “swelling act” of the purportedly democratic theme. In point of fact, Panchayat Election 2018 has been quite the most murderous that West Bengal has witnessed ever since the Naxalites were determined to torpedo the elections in the early 1970s.

There was doubtless an ideological underpinning more than 45 years ago; this time it was calculated malevolence. Nineteen election-related deaths on a single day is the highest in recent memory. This precisely is the grim parable to be drawn from the exercise to sustain democracy and rural governance at the grassroots level.

The other point of contestation is whether the state has the wherewithal to conduct so vast an exercise on a single day in the rural areas, fundamentally volatile. As it turned out, the “single-phase” elections have been conducted with disastrous effect.

An agreeable clarification on the BJP’s performance in a swathe of the Red Corridor may not be forthcoming for some time yet. Suffice it to register that a Left radical turf has convincingly voted for a rabidly Rightist party. The burial of ideology is complete. Junglemahal isn’t “smiling”; nor for that matter is Darjeeling.

Yet in its moment of triumph, the ruling party must of necessity reflect on the reality that the Opposition could not file nominations on account of the almost endemic bloodletting, leading to the arrest of a prominent Trinamul activist on the orders of the Chief Minister.

Arabul Islam, behind or beyond the bars, personifies only a symptom of the canker that has permeated this year’s tryst with rural democracy. A brute majority, most particularly Zilla Parishads without the Opposition, can arguably be counter-productive in terms of governance, as Bengal had the misfortune to witness during the high noon of the CPI-M.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the scale of the victory runs counter to the certitudes of democracy. Was it really necessary for Trinamul to go on overkill and literally so, recalling the mayhem during the Salt Lake municipal elections some years back?

The formidable challenge now is to make the panchayats work; they must above all be seen to be serving the people. Many if not most of the Zilla Parishads, Gram Panchayats, and Panchayat Samitis are dysfunctional, judging by the benchmark of effective rural governance.

Under CPI-M rule, the benefits of the system were frittered away ~ a bitter irony when one reflects that the revival of the panchayats is still rated as one of the party’s signal achievements. Its foundation has now been rendered almost irreparably brittle under the Trinamul Congress dispensation, and most damagingly by the fiscal foozles… irrespective of the party in power.

In Purulia, for instance, the failure of the panchayats to utilse the funds released by Britain’s Department for International Development was once the thrust of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s remarkably forthright presentation in the presence of DFID officials (November 2006).

Rural governance cries out for a dramatic revamp. The victory, via the deadliest electoral violence that the state has witnessed, is an ignoble means to a noble end ~ the consummation to be devoutly wished for. Nearly four decades after its revival, West Bengal’s Panchayati Raj calls for a ventilator.