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Bengal SEC under fire from opposition over violence in panchayat elections

Death of at least 15 people were reported on Monday in violence related to the West Bengal panchayat elections.

india Updated: May 14, 2018 23:29 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
People burn ballot boxes during panchayat elections at Deotala in Malda district on May 14.
People burn ballot boxes during panchayat elections at Deotala in Malda district on May 14.(PTI Photo)
         

Opposition parties trained their guns on state election commissioner (SEC) AK Singh with the CPI(M) and the Congress accusing him of conniving with the Trinamool Congress following widespread violence on Monday in the West Bengal panchayat polls.

After 15 deaths were reported on Monday, opposition leaders alleged that the casualties could have been avoided if commissioner Singh did not toe the Trinamool Congress’ line and pressed for a staggered poll schedule instead of going for a single-phase polling.

Since April 2, the first day of submission of nomination for the panchayat elections, a total of 30 people have been killed so far.

“SEC must act to restore faith in the process. Else it will be seen as complicit to Trinamool’s project of destroying democracy. Allowing TMC to get away with throttling democracy has implications well beyond West Bengal,” said CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

As reports of violence and deaths started flowing in from different districts on Monday, the SEC’s office started frequent interactions with the state police bosses. Additional director general (law & order), Anuj Sharma started sending messages to district police superintendents to take action. However, opposition leaders described these initiatives as farcical.

“These are just an eye wash. Tomorrow, if the state government, or SEC, faces any legal battle on poll violence, they have to keep some documents ready. The election commissioner and ADG (law & order) should be removed from their position. The chief minister, too, should resign,” said CPI (M) legislator Tanmay Bhattacharya.

“Since the beginning SEC had been working as the stooge of Trinamool Congress,” alleged Congress legislator, Abdul Mannan.

BJP’s state president in Bengal, Dilip Ghosh said the party would demand re-election in the districts where there had been maximum violence by ruling Trinamool. “We are not sure whether the SEC will work impartially and order re-polling. But we will be persistent in our demand,” Ghosh said.

Trinamool’s secretary general, Partha Chatterjee rubbished all allegations and said that the opposition had created trouble in pockets to malign the state government, which is evident from the murder of a number of Trinamool workers. He defended the SEC saying he managed the polling process efficiently with active cooperation from Trinamool and the state government.

Singh has been at the centre of controversy since the beginning of the poll exercise.

In its notification on March 31, Singh had announced a three-phase polling on May 1, 3 and 5. However, after chief minister Mamata Banerjee advocated polling before the Islamic month of Ramzan started (likely on March 16), he issued another notification switching to a single-phase schedule.

Singh was also criticised by the opposition parties for not asking for central forces and reposing his faith in state police. In the run up to the polls, the Congress had moved the Calcutta high court seeking quashing of the single-phase election date on May 14 on grounds of inadequate police force to ensure law and order.

The violence that the opposition parties had widely anticipated, unfolded quickly in the day to soil the SEC’s reputation even more.

First Published: May 14, 2018 20:43 IST

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