By-poll schedule for 4 assembly seats including Mamata Banerjee’s announced
By-polls to four assembly seats, including West Bengal’s Bhabanipur where Mamata Banerjee is expected to contest as she needs to get elected to the state assembly by November to continue as the chief minister, will be held on September 30, the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced on Saturday.
Banerjee, who took oath as the chief minister on May 5, needs to be elected within six months to retain the post. Her Trinamool Congress (TMC) swept to power for the third time this summer. But Banerjee lost the March-April assembly polls from Nandigram to her protégé-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
TMC has been pressing for holding the by-polls as soon as possible. It has been critical of the ECI over the delay in announcing the schedule for them. In June, Banerjee said the election watchdog was awaiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s instructions to hold the by-elections. A delegation of TMC parliamentarians met the ECI on July 15, seeking the by-polls at the earliest.
The by-poll schedule was announced days after the ECI sought inputs on 30 constituencies across the country from concerned chief secretaries and disaster management authorities in view of the pandemic.
Apart from Bhabanipur, the by-polls will be held to Jangipur, Samerganj (West Bengal), and Pipli (Odisha) seats. The ECI has allowed 14-day campaigning in Bhabanipur while curtailing the electioneering in other constituencies as per the pandemic situation. “Campaigning is allowed but it has been notified according to the pandemic (situation)...,” a person familiar with the matter said on the condition of anonymity.
The ECI said public gatherings will be prohibited during the nomination process. “Only three vehicles (will be) permitted within a periphery of 100 meters of RO’s (returning officer) office. No procession for nomination shall be permitted,” the ECI said in an order.
For indoor campaigns, 30% of the allowed capacity or 200 persons, whichever is less, will be permitted. A register will also be maintained to count the number of people attending the meetings.
The daily count of Covid-19 cases shot up from around 200 on February 26, when the eight-phase elections in Bengal were announced, to more than 27,000 on April 29 when the polls ended. Health experts linked the surge in infections to political rallies that violated the Covid-19 protocol.
Elections in two constituencies in West Bengal’s Murshidabad were cancelled when the candidates contesting them died of Covid-19 in April during the staggered assembly polls. Two BJP members of Parliament, Nisith Pramanik and Jagannath Sarkar, resigned after winning assembly polls. Two other TMC legislators died after contracting the Covid-19 infection. TMC lawmaker from Bhawanipore, Sovan Deb Chatterjee, resigned to vacate the seat for Banerjee to contest.