The Bihar polls have cast a shadow over the Bengal elections. On Wednesday, a state Congress delegation met the full bench of the Election Commission (EC) and asked it to follow the highly-successful Bihar model of conducting polls in Bengal, a key element being the deployment of central forces in the state well ahead of the elections.
As soon as the Congress leaders walked out of the EC office in Delhi, the Trinamool Congress built pressure on the poll panel, accusing it of crossing its jurisdiction. The reference was to reports that the EC would send in paramilitary forces as soon as the elections were declared, possibly by the beginning of March.
While the Congress memorandum to the EC makes no mention of the Bihar model, Pradesh Congress president and Berhampore MP Adhir Chowdhury told reporters after meeting the panel led by Nasim Zaidi, “We have requested the EC to replicate its Bihar model to ensure free and fair polling in Bengal.”
Earlier, BJP’s sole MLA in the Assembly, Samik Bhattacharya, too, had urged the EC to replicate the Bihar model in Bengal. By Bihar model, Bengal’s opposition leaders meant the presence of central forces in all booths, no presence of state police personnel within 200 meters of the booths, area domination by central forces 15 days ahead of polling and, entry of only one voter in the booth at a time and installation of CCTV cameras both inside and outside the booths.
In Bihar, the elections were held in five phases. Bengal’s opposition parties — Left Front, Congress and BJP — have already suggested the polls should be conducted in 5-7 phases.
The Congress leadership also informed the EC panel that the state government is in the habit of picking up fights with the state EC. Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Trinamool lashed out at the EC, with party secretary general Partha Chatterjee accusing the panel of crossing its jurisdiction by deciding to send in central forces way ahead of the elections. About 100 companies (120 personnel comprise each company) of central forces are likely to arrive in early March though there has not been any official declaration in this regard. Chatterjee’s attack came a day after the party’s national vice-president Mukul Roy met Bengal’s chief electoral officer and requested him to hold the polls as soon as possible.