Bengal Poll Campaign Cut Short by a Day

The Election Commission, in a first-of-its-kind decision, curtailed all electioneering in West Bengal by a day on grounds that the state government had failed to provide a level playing field to all candidates.

In a six-page order, the commission took the unanimous view that some “special measures are urgently needed to arrest the prevailing situation in these nine parliamentary constituencies” to create a conducive law and order situation to hold free, fair and peaceful elections.

The EC ordered that all campaigning must end by 10 pm on Thursday — a day before schedule. Campaigning for the seventh phase of the general elections was to end at 6 pm on Friday.

While invoking Article 324 of the Constitution for the first time to curtail campaigning for the last phase of voting on May 19, the EC also ordered immediate removal of principal secretary (home) Atri Bhattacharya and Rajiv Kumar, additional director-general, CID, for “having interfered in the process of conducting polls by directing WB chief electoral officer (CEO)”.

West Bengal governor KN Tripathi sent a report to the home ministry on the political violence. The report, according to sources, states that the citizens’ fundamental right to free and fair franchise is being violated.

The decision comes a day after the bust of noted Bengal renaissance scholar Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was desecrated during the roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah on Tuesday. Shah on Wednesday said BJP workers were not involved in the incident and accused agitating Trinamool Congress workers of engineering the episode.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is until now scheduled to hold one rally on Thursday while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is slated to hold more rallies with one big gathering in North Kolkata.

The nine constituencies set to go to polls in the final phase are: Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata.

Earlier in the day, Shah accused the EC of being a “mute spectator” for not taking action against the West Bengal government. Opposition parties and ruling TMC, however, questioned the EC’s decision to allow campaigning till Thursday, alleging that it suited the PM holding rallies in West Bengal.

In its order, however, the EC stated: “During the review with observers (in WB), it clearly came out that while logistics arrangement, including training of polling officials, etc., are mostly on track as per ECI requirements, there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level playing field to all candidates for campaigning and in providing a fearless and threat-free environment to the voters.”

The Commission also recorded that “growing incidents of disruption and violence during the political campaign in West Bengal during the ongoing general elections to the Lok Sabha” had been brought to its notice.

EC’s observation is based on a report from two special observers, namely Ajay Nayak, a restired IAS officer, and Vivek Dubey, a former IPS officer. In their report submitted to the Commission on May 15, they said that 100 persons were detained for the violent incidents of May 14, of which 58 were arrested in two cases which also name BJP leaders, including Amit Shah.

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