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Bengal panchayat poll nomination extended by a day, voting dates may change

The new deadline for the West Bengal panchayat elections will be decided by the state election commission in consultation with the state government.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2018 17:24 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times
Bengal panchayat polls,Bengal panchayat elections,Panchayat poll violence
File photo of CPI(M) supporters protesting in Siliguri on April 13, against violence allegedly by activists of the ruling Trinamool Congress. (AFP)

Calcutta high court on Friday extended the deadline for submission of nominations in the Bengal panchayat polls by a day, which will be decided by the state election commission in consultation with the state government.

Since there has to be a gap of 21 days between the last date of nomination and the first day of polling, the dates of voting are likely to change if the court’s order is not challenged.

Bengal was set to vote on May 1, 3 and 5.

“It’s a historic verdict. The court has come forward to help the democratic process that is in peril in Bengal. It is a victory for the people who did not get any help from the police to file nomination,” said Pratap Banerjee, general secretary of the Bengal unit of BJP.

Trinamool advocate Kalyan Banerjee, however, said the court did not allow the BJP plea to remove the election commissioner and deploy central forces.

Congress welcomed the court order, but said “it does not mean the end of violence”.

“A new date will be announced and a new chapter violence will be unleashed by the ruling party,” said state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury.

The ruling comes as a relief for opposition parties that have alleged violence by the Trinamool Congress since nominations started on April 2. They claimed that supporters of the ruling party tried to prevent their candidates from filing nominations. At least six persons were killed in poll-related clashes.

The rural polls are crucial as they will provide the only pan-Bengal indicator of the popularity of political parties before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Trinamool Congress, which wants a larger role in national politics, wants to retain its hold over the state’s grassroots-level politics, while the BJP, fast emerging as Bengal’s main Opposition party, is keen to expand its footprint.

The past 10 days have seen intense legal wrangling with the BJP and the Trinamool Congress moving Calcutta high court and Supreme Court over the question of nomination deadline.

On the night of April 9, the state election commission issued a notification extending the filing of nomination by a day (till 3 pm on April 10). But barely 12 hours later, state election commissioner AK Singh issued another notification withdrawing the extension order. He cited two letters — one by the state government and the other by Trinamool Congress vice-president Kalyan Banerjee — that pointed out legal infirmities in the previous notification.

The BJP immediately moved the apex court that ordered the matters be heard by the Calcutta high court on April 12. At the high court, Justice Subrata Talukdar suspended all processes of the Bengal rural polls till April 16.

The matter since then has moved to a division bench of the high court, which shifted the case back to the single-judge bench of Justice Talukdar.

The CPM had also moved the Supreme Court on April 11 with an appeal to postpone the panchayat elections till the question of the filing of nominations by opposition candidates was settled.

First Published: Apr 20, 2018 16:36 IST