Mamata Banerjee questions rationale behind conducting Bengal polls in 8 phases
She alleged that the poll panel scheduled the election dates keeping in mind the BJP’s demands.
Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday questioned the rationale behind holding the West Bengal Assembly elections in eight phases and scheduling polls in some districts on more than one day.
She also attacked the Election Commission and alleged that the poll panel scheduled the election dates keeping in mind the BJP’s demands.
“The district of South 24 Parganas is a TMC stronghold, hence elections have been scheduled there on three days. Has this been done on the directions of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi? Is it that after wrapping up the elections in other states they want to play a month-long game here?” she said soon after election dates were announced.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose echoed her remarks and said, “Why should it be part 1, part 2? I don't know the reason behind part 1 and part 2. I have known elections since 1958.”
South 24 Parganas, which Banerjee cited as an example, is a TMC bastion with Diamond Harbour being the Lok Sabha constituency from where TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, who also happens to be the chief minister’s nephew, won the 2019 polls.
“Elections in West Bengal have never been held in eight phases. The maximum was seven in 2016. In 2011 and 2006, they were held in six and five phases respectively. Earlier, large districts such as Kolkata, South 24 Parganas and North 24 Praganas were held in two phases. But this time South 24 Parganas has been broken down into three phases and most of the districts have been broken down into two phases including Nadia, Howrah and Hooghly,” said a senior poll panel official.
“I welcome the ECI's decision. But why only half of some districts are going to polls on one day and the other half in another phase? It should have been continuous so that force mobilisation and election machinery could have moved together,” said Banerjee.
The ECI on Friday announced that Assembly elections in West Bengal would be held in eight phases – the longest till date in the state - starting from March 27. In at least 11 districts, the polls would be held on more than one day. The election in South 24 Parganas would be held in three phases.
“If elections can be held in Bihar and Assam in three phases, then why are they being held in eight phases here? Who will be benefitted? The ECI should be more rational,” she said.
The BJP hit back saying that it was Banerjee who used to demand seven to eight-phased polls before the TMC came to power.
“Before she came to power in 2011, Banerjee had been demanding publicly that without a seven to eight-phased poll, elections can’t be held in a free and fair manner in Bengal. But now that she is certain that her party would be defeated, she is crying foul,” said BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that it is not a big jump as in 2016, elections were held in seven phases. Even though there were six phases, the first phase was divided into two parts resulting in seven phases.
“Never in the past have elections been held like this where elections in 11 out of the 23 districts are being held in more than one phase,” said Robin Deb, senior CPIM leader.
With elections approaching, frequent clashes between the TMC and the BJP have been reported over the past few months. While the BJP claimed that more than 130 party workers have been killed in the TMC’s regime, the TMC claimed that many of the BJP workers who have been found dead died by suicide and were killed in internal clashes.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, said, “The law and order situation in West Bengal has touched the rock bottom. We apprehended massive violence in the run-up to the polls and on the election days. We are happy that polls would be held in eight phases. People should be allowed to cast their votes freely without any fear.”