iconimg Sunday, July 05, 2015

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Kolkata, April 16, 2014
In the first such move in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday deployed an IAS officer — four years senior to the state's chief electoral officer — as a 'special observer' to monitor the polling process.  The move came days after a showdown between the poll panel and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Elections for 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state are scheduled for April 17, 24, 30, May 7 and 12.

Experts claimed the move of deploying a special observer senior to chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta is a clear indication that the EC top brass is trying to control the poll process in West Bengal directly from Delhi.

Incidentally, over the past few weeks, EC officials had come under attack by the ruling party members in at least three incidents in Malda, Howrah and Habra.

The chief minister herself challenged the EC and said it was acting like an agent of her opposition, and the impression was gaining ground that the machinery would not be able to work in a free and impartial manner.

On April 7, EC removed four superintendents of police, one district magistrate and two additional district magistrates from poll duty after complaints poured in against them.

"Late on Tuesday night we received a communication from Delhi that 1983-batch IAS officer of Bihar cadre, Sudhir Kumar Mishra, has been appointed as a special observer for West Bengal. He would stay in the state till the counting process ends," said a senior EC official in Kolkata.

Incidentally, the same officer was sent to West Bengal in the 2011 assembly elections to watch over the fourth phase. In 2004 another senior IAS officer, Afzal Amanullah, was sent to the state to watch over the entire poll process.

Amanullah was mainly sent after Trinamool Congress, then in the opposition, complained that the ruling party won't allow the administration to work impartially.

Welcoming the decision, state secretariat member of CPI(M), Robin Deb, said: "This is a right step towards ensuring free and fair elections in the state."

Former bureaucrats and IAS officers who had served as CEO of West Bengal explained that it is only when the EC higher-ups in New Delhi are dissatisfied with the working of the state administration and apprehend that there could be hindrances in conducting free and fair polls, that special observers are appointed.

"In 2004, it was Mamata Banerjee, who was then in the opposition, had complained that free and fair polls are not possible in West Bengal as the state administration is favoring the ruling Left Front," said a former CEO of West Bengal.

This time all the parties including the CPI(M), Congress and the BJP have complained against a section of the state administration of favouring the ruling party. Allegations also surfaced against the CEO himself for not taking timely action against the ruling party on the basis of complaints lodged by the opposition.