Opposition parties on Wednesday criticised the Election Commission’s order to curtail campaigning time in West Bengal for the final phase of the Lok Sabha elections, with some questioning if the timing of the order favoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Election Commission of India had said that campaigning in West Bengal will end by 10 pm on Thursday. Campaigning would have ended at 5 pm on Friday in normal circumstances, according to the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct. The panel took the decision in response to violence in Kolkata during Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah’s roadshow on Tuesday evening.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala called the poll panel’s decision a “dark day in the history of democracy”. “EC’s order on W.Bengal [West Bengal] negates the due process under Art [Article] 14 [and] 21 and abdicates its Constitutional duty under Art [Article] 324 to ensure level playing field,” he said. “This is an unpardonable betrayal of the Constitution!”
Surjewala claimed the poll panel has not taken action on 11 complaints filed against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah and on complaints of violence by BJP and “intimidation by Amit Shah”. “Now, permit Modiji’s rallies on 16th [and] ban all others,” he said. “This is a shameful fall for a once independent Constitutional Body.”
Modi is scheduled to address rallies in Laxmikantapur and Dum Dum in West Bengal before campaigning ends on Thursday.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel also questioned the timing of the ban. “If situation in Bengal is so severe that campaigning must be stopped, why is EC waiting until tomorrow?” he asked on Twitter. “Is it because PM has scheduled rallies tomorrow? Isn’t it unprecedented that EC claims it’s an unprecedented situation in West Bengal but yet is waiting for PM to complete his public meetings?”
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said the Election Commission’s decision to truncate campaigning was “against all norms of democratic fair play”. “I fully support Mamata ji in her fight to stop the undemocratic march of the two and a half men who have used and abused every institution of our country for their own gain.”
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati claimed Mamata Banerjee was made a target as part of a conspiracy to divert attention from the failures of the Modi government, PTI reported. “It is now clear that under the present Chief Election Commissioner, Lok Sabha polls are not being held in a totally free and fair manner,” she said in Lucknow.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury questioned why no action has been initiated against the BJP and the Trinamool Congress for Tuesday’s violence. “The decision by EC to stop campaigning a day in advance is not understood,” he said. “If a ban is intended for 72 hours, why is it starting at 10 pm tomorrow? Is it to allow the two rallies of the PM before that?”
Yechury asked why the poll panel had not put in place a redressal mechanism if arms were accumulated or in case of any other violation. “So far there has been no action by the EC,” he said. “This silence by them is widely considered as benefiting the ruling parties.” Yechury also questioned why the Election Commission has not released a video of the violence in Bengal if the BJP and TMC have raised claims.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi questioned why the campaign ban was only applicable to West Bengal. “Natural justice [and] fair play demands it should have been for entire 7th Phase why only West Bengal, why not for Eastern UP?”