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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014

Did TMC provoke battles with state EC to snatch panchayat seats uncontested?

Ravik Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, July 05, 2013
First Published: 23:52 IST(5/7/2013) | Last Updated: 01:35 IST(6/7/2013)

The Trinamool Congress is out to bring about the one grassroot-level change in West Bengal that had eluded it so far - taking over the till recently Left-dominated panchayats.

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Though the TMC wrenched the state from the Left Front in 2011, it had no control over local governance - panchayats, panchayat samitis and the zilla parishads. They were still the Left's area of influence.

Also, the urban voter's disillusionment with the two-year-old Mamata Banerjee government before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has made it crucial for the TMC boss to control the massive rural vote bank through panchayats.

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This explains Banerjee's desperation for having the easy-to-manipulate state police around during a hasty one-phase poll. It even fought with the state election commission, a constitutional body, to have its way.

Central forces and a phased-out poll would have levelled the playing field. And the TMC isn't sure about the outcome of the poll - not any more.

"The ruling party, which has lost out on popularity in just two years, is trying to win by hook or by crook," said CPI(M) central committee member Mohammed Salim.

So, a strategy was drawn up - force the commission to go to court and gain time. The three-month-long courtroom drama between the TMC and the election commission has predictably given enough space and time to the TMC to take away 10% seats uncontested.

While the battle raged in the Calcutta high court and the Supreme Court over whose right it was to declare the panchayat poll dates and who would decide on the colour and number of the security forces, a silent takeover occurred in the party's strongholds across the state.

By the time the courts were able to resolve the situation, Trinamool candidates managed to win around 5,500 panchayat seats through - the opposition alleged - unbridled violence.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharjee said in the absence of security during the nomination phase, Congress candidates who went to submit nominations were threatened and beaten up. "We had candidates, but had to let 20% of the seats we intended to contest go to the TMC."

Although the Supreme Court now established the primacy of the election commission and ordered a five-phase poll complete with the presence of central forces to provide security, opposition leaders say the damage has been done.

With almost 10% seats under its belt, the rest can only be a cakewalk for Banerjee. And that's why TMC general secretary Mukul Roy sounds smug: "Bengal's law and order situation is one of the best in the country. The people will vote peacefully and Parivartan will be complete."


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