West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday criticised the Election Commission of India for its decision to end campaigning in the state at 10 pm on Thursday. The poll panel took the decision a day after violence at Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata. Ordinarily, campaigning for the nine Lok Sabha seats voting on May 19 would have ended on Friday.
Banerjee, addressing a press conference, claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, not the poll panel, had taken the decision to remove state Principal Secretary Atri Bhattacharyya.
“This is an unprecedented decision,” she said. “Yesterday’s violence was because of Amit Shah. Why has EC not issued a showcause notice to him or sacked him?” The chief minister alleged that the poll panel is “running under the BJP”.
Banerjee claimed that the Election Commission’s order came after Shah threatened it at a press conference in New Delhi. Shah had accused the poll panel of being biased against the BJP. “Goons were brought from outside [to Kolkata on Wednesday], they created violence wearing saffron, violence similar to when Babri Masjid was demolished,” Banerjee alleged.
The chief minister also claimed that the poll panel’s order is unconstitutional. “There is no such law and order problem in West Bengal that Article 324 can be clamped,” she said. “It is unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical. It is actually a gift to Modi and Shah.” Article 324 of the Indian Constitution deals with powers available to the Election Commission in the conduct of polls.
Political war and Election Commission’s response
The statue of 19th-century Bengali writer and philosopher Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in Kolkata was vandalised during clashes between workers of the Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left Front on Tuesday. “The commission is deeply anguished at the vandalism done to the statue of Vidyasagar,” the panel told the media in New Delhi.
The Election Commission also removed Additional Director General of Police (CID) Rajeev Kumar from his post, and asked him to report to the Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday. It also relieved West Bengal Principal Secretary (Home Affairs) Atri Bhattacharyya of his duties “for having interfered in the process of conducting the election”. The poll panel said West Bengal Chief Secretary Malay Kumar De would take over Bhattacharyya’s duties.
Both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP have blamed each other for the act of vandalism. Earlier in the day, Amit Shah accused the Mamata Banerjee-led party of vandalising the statue. He claimed that it would have been difficult for him to escape Tuesday’s violence unhurt had central paramilitary forces not been deployed for his security. He also accused the Election Commission of being a “mute spectator” to violent incidents in West Bengal. The BJP demanded that the poll panel ban Banerjee from campaigning.
However, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien labelled Shah a “liar”. He also alleged that paramilitary forces in West Bengal are colluding with the BJP. O’Brien said the Trinamool Congress has video footage of the act of vandalism.