Explained | What drives political violence in Bengal?

West Bengal has a long history of political violence. (Photo: PTI)The recent gruesome killings in Birbhum district of West Bengal is just another footnote to the eastern state’s long and ignominious history of political violence. Each violent incident is followed by usual uproars, intense press coverage and the rituals of institutional enquiries and reprimands until the next big killings dwarfs the present one. Of course, Bengal is not alone in this. There are other Indian states that routinely experience high volume political violence. Heartland states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are well known for bahubali and mafia syndicates that have sway over many districts, and which are used by politicians to eliminate rivals from other parties or even competitors from their own ranks. Caste and communal violence has also been prevalent in many states, especially in Rajasthan, Assam, Maharashtra among others. Even relatively better governed states like Gujarat and Kerala have witnessed major incidents of violence. Yet, none of them come close to what the Bengal has been witnessing for many decades.

According to most recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report (2021), West Bengal accounted for highest number of political murders in the country. While Kerala has witnessed more than 200 political murders in the last three decades emanating largely out of the rivalry between the Left parties and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), it is nowhere closer to Bengal. As per NCRB data, Bengal has been recording on an average 20 political killings every year since 1999. Again, as per NCRB data as many as 47 political killings involving TMC and BJP workers have occurred since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, violence is not restricted to party workers alone. It has even touched the top leaders of both parties during the high-pitched 2021 assembly elections in the state. What is interesting is the fact that political violence in the state is not restricted to pre-election or post-election time violence. It is ‘everyday violence’ which make Bengal case very distinct and worrisome. But the real question is how the culture of political violence is persistent over such a long period of time in a politically stable society.