SC says Calcutta HC to hear Bengal rural poll matter; two killed in fresh violence
While the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to interfere in the rural polls in West Bengal and asked the BJP and CPI-M to approach the Calcutta high court with their grievances that include a demand to extend the deadline for filing nominations, violence claimed two more lives.
Safiar Rehman Mondal, a Trinamool leader in the Sashan area of the North 24 Parganas district, was stabbed to death on Wednesday afternoon while he and his followers were celebrating the ruling party’s uncontested victory at the Falti-Beliaghata gram panchayat. The sole assailant, identified as Rajib Ali, was beaten to death on Taki Road by Trinamool supporters.
Confirming the deaths, superintendent of police C Sudhakar said there was a possibility that the attack on Mondal stemmed from personal enmity. “Police are investigating the case,” he said.
In the morning, the apex court directed BJP and CPI(M) to appear before the high court on Thursday where a hearing has been fixed. The CPI(M) had sought postponement of the elections till opposition candidates could file nomination papers.
The two opposition parties in the state are accusing workers of the ruling Trinamool Congress, led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, of assaulting and intimidating their candidates amid widespread violence in the run-up to the panchayat polls on May 1, 3 and 5. Counting of votes will take place on May 8.
The polls are being seen as a test of strength for the Trinamool and opposition BJP and Congress ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
Referring to the deaths at Sashan and other incidents of violence, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in the evening that a section of the media was highlighting only a handful of incidents only to malign her government.
“CPI-M and BJP leaders have ganged up against us. A section of the media is helping them. I suspect the hand of paid media in this wide coverage of violence. There has been violence in only five of six places. The opposition has filed 74,000 nominations. How could they do it?” Banerjee claimed.
In the evening, Left Front chairman announced a six-hour general strike in Bengal from 6 am to 12 noon on April 13. “The general strike is being called in protest against the ongoing violence and attack on opposition workers and nominees. Essential services have been kept out of the ambit of the strike. We have not called a full-day strike so that people are not affected before the Bengali news years day which is on April 15,” Front chairman Biman Bose said.
Mamata Banerjee said the government would not allow any strike. ‘There will not be any strike, let me make this clear,” she said before leaving the state secretariat.
The West Bengal unit of the BJP had moved the apex court on Wednesday, hours after the state poll panel suddenly recalled its decision extending till Tuesday the last date for filing of nominations, allegedly under pressure from the ruling Trinamool Congress.
The top court said the Calcutta high court is already seized of the matter and had passed an order the previous day, staying the State Election Commission’s (SEC) decision to recall its order extending the deadline by a day.
A bench of justices RK Agrawal and AM Sapre requested the high court to consider the matter on Thursday in accordance with the law.
“The Supreme Court asked us to go to the Calcutta high court with the appeal of postponing the polls. If the court’s decision goes against us, we will come back to the Supreme Court,” said Bikash Bhattacharyya, representing the CPI(M) in court.
Kabir Shankar Bose, an advocate who appeared for Bengal BJP in the apex court said, “We highlighted how pressure was mounting on the State Election Commission. The court expressed its concern and said the high court will decide the question of extension of the nomination window.”
A section of the state’s intellectuals, who opposed the CPI(M) during the Singur and Nandigram episode in 2007-08 and sided with Trinamool Congress, lambasted the ruling party for its authoritarian tendencies and efforts to stymie competition in the rural polls.
“We have been shamed in front of the democracy-loving people at home and abroad by the incidents that have taken place in the nomination phase of the polls,” said a statement issued at a press conference in the city on Wednesday. Singers, theatre personalities, educationists, lawyers and human rights activists participated in it.
Singer Pratul Mukhopadhyay accused Mamata Banerjee of trying to impose a totalitarian government “by trying to prevent the opposition the chance of contesting polls”.
TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee dismissed the allegations saying opposition parties have filed more candidates than in the past.
“The intellectuals who are expressing democracy being in peril either don’t have the information, or have been supplied incorrect information,” he added.
On Wednesday, the day of scrutiny of nomination, clashes erupted in Balarampur of Purulia between BJP and Trinamool supporters in which 10 persons were injured.