The standoff between the Mamata Banerjee administration and the State Election Commission (SEC) over the panchayat polls intensified on Monday, with the latter shooting off an 11-page letter to the government questioning its stand on all three counts — the number of phases, the distribution of districts between the two dates and the deployment of forces.
State election commissioner Mira Pandey is likely to meet Governor MK Narayanan on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
The letter to the administration followed a series of highlevel meetings among the top brass of the SEC on Sunday and Monday to finalise the response to, and strategy on, the state government’s announcement of the election on April 26 and 30 — the last date reserved for polls in only the three Congress-dominated districts of Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur.
“There are certain grounds on which we don’t agree with the state government. The grounds on which we’ve raised questions are the distribution of districts, the number of phases and the deployment of forces,” a senior SEC officer told HT.
Sources in the SEC said it was the distribution of districts made by the state government that had irked the election panel the most. Officials said the earmarking of the three Congress-dominated districts for a separate day was a politically driven decision, and one which the election body was unwilling to be seen as being supportive of.
The SEC had earlier advocated polls in three phases under the security cover of the central paramilitary forces.
“We’ve sent an 11-page letter to the state government. I’m not in a position to comment on the contents of the letter. I can only say that the letter was written in accordance with Section 43(2) of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act, 2003,” Tapas Ray, secretary, SEC, said.
Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said the government would respond to the letter on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, developments around the rural polls indicated the snowballing of a constitutional crisis in the state. While the state government has already indicated it is not ready to budge from its stand, the SEC made it clear that it was not willing to play ball with the administration. The opposition egged on the SEC to take a tough stand against the government on the issue. They said their concerns had increased after the government decided on the two-phase election format, where the polls for just three opposition-dominated districts would be conducted on one day and those for all of the other 14 districts in the state on another.
Hindustan Times earlier reported how most constitutional experts and senior bureaucrats felt that the SEC was likely to be vindicated if the issue was resolved via a legal battle.
“We met the state election commissioner and urged the SEC to reconsider the government’s notification on election dates,”Congress leader Manas Bhuniya said.
BJP leaders met the Governor and sought his intervention to end the impasse between the SEC and the state. The state BJP wing, which threatened to move court against the government’s decision, met Bhagwati Prasad Banerjee, former justice of Calcutta High Court, for legal advice.
On Friday, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee announced that the polls would be held in two phases under the surveillance of the armed police.