West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee panned the Election Commission’s Friday announcement of six-phase polls and central forces at all voting booths, with her party preparing to battle the BJP and a possible Left-Congress combine in the state from April 4.
The Trinamool Congress chief named her candidates, including jailed former minister Madan Mitra and retired India football captain Baichung Bhutia, minutes after the schedule revealed that voters will pick their legislators over seven days with results on May 19.
The lengthy timetable indicates the poll panel has security concerns and Banerjee hit out at opposition parties for “misinforming” the commission about the law and order situation.
“Assam has communal problems. But the Election Commission has decided polls will be completed in only two days. Tamil Nadu has a one-day poll. Kerala has a one-day poll. I do not know why six phases and seven days for Bengal,” she said at a press conference in Kolkata, which will see voting on two days in the first phase. “Bengal always gets step-motherly treatment from others.”
Her rivals, the CPI(M) and Congress, welcomed the poll panel’s decision after they warned that the ruling party could use its clout to sway the voting process. “What we highlighted to the Election Commission was that it must be ensured that voters can safely cast their votes,” CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said in Delhi.
The BJP, which has not been a major player in West Bengal, knows winning the state will give it greater control over the Rajya Sabha and help push through key reforms. The party is trying to regain the momentum that helped it register its best ever show in the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Banerjee announced 294 nominees, including former state cricket captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Baishali Dalmiya, daughter of late Indian cricket board chief Jagmohan Dalmiya. “The party will go it alone in the polls,” said the Trinamool chief.
She said former sports and transport minister Madan Mitra, who is in jail as an accused in the multi-crore Saradha deposits scam, will fight to retain his Kamarhati seat in the North 24 Parganas district.
The scandal emerged in 2013 with the collapse of the investment operation of the Saradha Group, a consortium of over 200 private companies that ran many unlicensed financial schemes in eastern India.
According to official estimates, thousands of small investors lost close to `2,500 crore, drawing attention to India’s vast informal financial sector with companies that raise money from the public but don’t fall under the purview of regulators.