The Mamata Banerjee administration blinked first in its battle of nerves with the State Election Commission (SEC), announcing that six districts would go to the polls on April 30, the second day of the panchayat elections it had announced a few days ago. The SEC’s response to the state government’s shift in position was unclear, since its secretary said the panel would take time to determine its next move.
The change of stance came a day after the SEC shot off an 11-page letter to the Trinamool government, refuting both its two-phase schedule and decision to hold the
elections with ‘armed police’ providing security cover.
“Elections to the six districts in North Bengal — North and South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Murshidabad and Malda — will be held on April 30. The remaining 11 districts will go to the polls on April 26,” Subrata Mukherjee, state panchayat minister, said on Tuesday.
The government had earlier announced that only three districts, Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur, would go to the polls on April 30, while elections in the other 14 districts would be held on April 26.
“The state has, indeed, reviewed some portions of the notification it had made. Once we receive the letter from the government, we will consider and determine our next course of action,” SEC secretary Tapas Ray said.
Sources in the SEC told HT that the government’s distribution of districts during the two phases had irked the officiating body the most. Officials said the ear marking of the three Congress dominated districts for a separate day amounted to a politically driven decision that the SEC was unwilling to be seen as being party to.
Mukherjee, however, also dismissed the commission’s 11-page letter sent a day earlier, leading to speculation that the impasse was far from over.
“We received the letter on Monday evening. It’s a schoolboyish type of letter, the contents of which are mostly irrelevant. They have raised certain points regarding the law and order situation, which seems absurd. Of the 11 pages, nearly 10 and half contain irrelevant points,” he said.
The attack came after Mukherjee met chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the top brass of his ministry, including the panchayat secretary and legal officers, at the Writers’ Buildings.
Standing his ground, the panchayat minister said, “Elections will be held in two phases and on the two dates we declared earlier — April 26 and April 30. There will be no central forces. It’s true that we don’t have enough armed police personnel to man all the booths. That’s why we had proposed borrowing armed police from neighbouring states.” Earlier in the day, State Election Commissioner Mira Pandey held a 90-minute meeting with Governor MK Narayanan at Raj Bhavan.
“I told the governor whatever I had to say,” was all that the tight-lipped Pandey would say after emerging from the discussion.
“She can meet the governor and even the president. She has the right. The state government will not approach the governor,” Mukherjee said when informed of the meeting. “Everything has been done in accordance with the law. The chief secretary and the panchayat secretary have personally met the State Election Commissioner at least 10 to 11 times, apart from other allied correspondence. Now, the SEC should abide by the law,” he added.
Following in the footsteps of party colleague Mukul Roy, who had earlier alleged that Pandey was biased towards the CPI(M) since she was appointed during the Left Front regime, Mukherjee slammed the SEC, claiming, “You people (read media) are responsible for making the hands of the SEC too long. The SEC is concentrating on issues that aren’t under their jurisdiction. It seems they have some other motives.”