The Election Commission of India on Saturday rejected West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s allegations that the Bharatiya Janata Party had tried to manipulate the election by capturing a booth and disrupting polling in Nandigram during the second phase of voting, The Times of India reported.
The commission also ruled out reports of violence or intimidation of voters during the day of the poll.
In a letter to Banerjee, the poll panel said the Trinamool Congress leader’s claims were factually incorrect, “without any empirical evidence whatsoever and devoid of substance”.
The EC added that it was contemplating action against the chief minister under relevant sections of the Model Code of Conduct and the Representation of the People’s Act, for “literally hurling an avalanche of allegations on some officials working in government of West Bengal itself, paramilitary forces and eventually at the Election Commission”.
The poll panel’s clarification came in response to a handwritten note Banerjee had sent to the EC during the second phase of voting on April 1.
Tensions erupted at Nandigram, where Banerjee is pitted against her former aide Suvendu Adhikari, who defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party in December. The polling witnessed chaos and political drama as supporters of the BJP and TMC clashed outside a booth.
Banerjee was visiting Boyal area after leaders of her party alleged that the BJP was capturing booths and indulging in rigging. The chief minister alleged that the polling agent from TMC was not allowed inside the booth. Some people, reportedly BJP supporters, began shouting slogans of “Jai Shri Ram”. Soon, supporters of the Trinamool Congress gathered at the spot and the clash ensued.
Banerjee had to stay inside the polling booth for more than two hours as the two groups clashed. She was later escorted out by the police and central forces.
In the evening, she accused the Election Commission of not taking any action even though her party lodged 63 complaints with the poll body. “I am as a candidate sitting outside the room in my wheelchair to seek justice for peaceful, free and fair election but nobody from the village are allowing to enter the voting booth including the election agent,” she alleged, urging the poll panel to lodge an FIR in the case.
Based on Banerjee’s allegations as well as reports from the media and its own officials, the poll panel had sought a report from its special observers in West Bengal, Ajay Nayak and Vivek Dube. It got the report at 5.30 pm on Friday.
In its response to Banerjee on Saturday, the EC expressed “deep regret” about how “a media narrative was sought to be weaved hour after hour to misguide the biggest stakeholders, which is the voters by a candidate who also happens to be chief minister of the state”.
“And all this was being done when the election process was/ is on,” it added. “There could not have been a greater misdemeanour.”
The poll panel gave a timeline of the “smooth progress of polling at Boyal” contrary to what Banerjee and other TMC had alleged. It said there was no mention in reports of officials at various levels “of either outsiders or guns and goons capturing the said booth”.
On the allegation that a TMC election agent was denied entry to the polling booth, the commission said the report of the district officers went to “great lengths” to ensure the presence of the polling agent. But the agent himself refused to come despite being assured that he would be escorted by the police and the sector officer of the booth, the poll panel wrote.
“The ECI cannot force anyone unwilling to work as a polling agent,” the Commission added. “Barring a few people shouting slogans for and against Mamata Banerjee, there was no report of any violence, nor was there any intimidation of voters.”
The commission added that it was separately examining whether the happenings of April 1 merit any action under Section 131 and 123(2) of Representation of the People’s Act and, or the Model Code of Conduct.
While Section 131 of Representation of the People’s Act deals with disorderly conduct in or near polling stations, Section 123(2) deals with disturbance in the conduct of elections.