The Election Commission has decided to send out about 150 more companies, or 15,000 jawans, of central forces to manage the next two phases of polls in West Bengal, following allegations of large-scale rigging and violence by the ruling Trinamool Congress.
The move came after opposition parties in West Bengal came together to allege that the EC turned a blind eye to poll violence by Trinamool workers during the April 30 polls.
A Union home ministry official, who refused to be quoted on the issue, rejected the charge that the Centre had not deployed adequate forces in the state, arguing that Bengal already had the highest number of central forces, about 35,000 jawans.
But he confirmed that the problem in West Bengal was one of flawed deployment of forces and not shortage of manpower. “For some strange reason, we heard central forces were heavily deployed in non-sensitive areas, leaving huge gaps in sensitive booths,” the official said.
The EC, however, rejected a demand by the Left parties of re-polling in 1,317 booths across south Bengal, saying, “There was no such incident in support of the demand by the opposition parties.”
The Left Front, Congress and the BJP have all demanded immediate removal of the EC’s special observer, Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, claiming that he didn’t force district administrations to deploy central paramilitary forces in several sensitive booths across south Bengal, traditionally a Trinamool stronghold.
“The remaining two rounds on May 7 and 12 will not be peaceful unless Rakesh is removed. We don’t trust him after what happened in the third phase. Our candidates tried to get in touch with him, but he did not answer calls or messages,” said state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Saturday.
Rakesh, however, rubbished the allegations, saying, “You are making me laugh. The elections were free and fair.” He also dismissed any possibility of a show-cause notice served to him by the EC.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose also wrote to the EC seeking the removal of Rakesh and Bengal’s chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta. He said referring to Rakesh’s sudden trip to Patna in the middle of the polls: “When Rakesh went to Patna he was a tiger. By the time he came back to Kolkata he had become a cat.”
A complaint to the EC by the BJP candidate from Hoogly Chandan Mitra alleged that “not a single member of central paramilitary forces was present in any booth”. Mitra also mentioned unusual voting patterns and the “large presence of Trinamool workers, who are widely feared due to their reputation for indulging in wanton violence” as factors that intimidated voters. No representative from any opposition party was present inside the booths, the letter said, accusing the EC of not responding in time. A delegation comprising CPI(M) politburo member SR Pillai, party central-secretariat member, Nilotpal Basu and CPI national secretary D Raja also met Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampat on Friday afternoon, demanding Rakesh’s removal.