Fight over Bengal rural polls reaches court, SC to hear matter
The West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) moved both the Supreme Court and the Calcutta high court on Tuesday challenging a U-turn by the State Election Commission (SEC) , which overturned its own order to extend the deadline for filing of nominations for rural polls in the state by a day.
The matter will be heard by the apex court on Wednesday. Responding to the BJP petition, a Calcutta high court single bench of justice Subrata Talukdar issued an interim stay on the SEC’s order on Tuesday morning that withdrew Monday’s decision to extend the deadline for the filing of nominations.
The deadline was to lapse on Monday and had been extended until Tuesday before the SEC’s vote face.
In Delhi, advocate Aishwarya Bhati mentioned the application before chief justice Dipak Misra in the afternoon and said an urgent hearing was required. The state BJP unit said the poll watchdog’s last minute decision is a “colourable exercise of power” at the behest of the Mamata Banerjee government.
The apex court allowed the early hearing plea and said the case would be heard by the same bench that had on Monday declined to entertain a petition by the BJP seeking judicial interference to ensure that party candidates are able to file their nomination papers.
In Kolkata, Bengal BJP leaders claimed moral victory after the Calcutta high court’s interim order. “The high court interim order proved that our contention was right,” said BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.
Tuesday was marked by a raft of developments turning on the SEC’s unprecedented decision to go back on its own order issued on Monday. The BJP moved both the Calcutta high court and the Supreme Court, seeking the quashing of the SEC’s order.
On the ground, confusion prevailed in the districts when candidates went to block development and sub-divisional offices to file nominations after the extension of the deadline.
“The court has said the SEC will take a decision,” said Kalyan Banerjee, advocate and Lok Sabha MP of TMC after the HC order. But Banerjee also claimed the schedule of the polls cannot be changed. He also told the media that on Wednesday, when the matter would come up for hearing in the high court, he would ask how could the same party could move two different courts with the same complaint.
Word spread that SEC was unlikely to issue new orders extending date for filing of nominations. “The matter belongs to the domain of the State Election Commission, but I don’t think the routine of the polls will change,” said panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee.
According to SEC’s order on late Monday evening, the filing of nomination that ended at 3 pm on Monday would have continued till 3 pm on Tuesday.
To step back from his order issued about 12 hours earlier, State Election Commissioner A K Singh wrote on Tuesday that it contained legal infirmities pointed out by ruling party vice president and MP Kalyan Banerjee, and the special secretary to the state government in separate letters. “The situation has become grimly ridiculous. On Monday night, SEC issues order for extending nomination, only to turn it down next morning. In the afternoon, the Calcutta high court issue interim stay on the order rescinding Monday’s order. The poll panel has become almost a stooge of the government,” said leader of the Left parties in Bengal assembly Sujan Chakraborty.
Incidents of violence allegedly took place on Tuesday too. Firoza Begam, the Congress MLA from Raninagar in Murshidabad district, was dragged out of her car and beaten. With blood stains on her neck, the MLA sat on the road in protest. Her car was also damaged.
The rural polls have grabbed headlines since filing of nominations began on April 2 with all the opposition parties alleging that Trinamool supporters were preventing their candidates from filing their forms. At least three people were killed and hundreds injured in dozens of clashes that took place every day.