Supreme Court refuses to interfere in West Bengal panchayat polls
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene in rural polls in West Bengal, where the election process has been marred by political violence, and asked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other political parties to take their grievances to the state election commission.
The decision came as a setback for the BJP’s Bengal unit, which had last week filed a petition in the top court alleging that its workers were being assaulted and candidates were being prevented from filing nomination papers by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The BJP had also asked for Central forces for the polls.
On the last day of filing nominations on Monday, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC won the Birbhum zila parishad with 41 of the 42 seats decided without a contest. There will, however, be contests in the remaining 19 zila parishads in the state. The ruling party also gained control of 14 panchayat samitis in 19 districts, for which the Opposition did not file nominations for a single seat. In all, there are 341 panchayat samitis in the state.
The BJP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress alleged that their candidates were prevented from filing nomination papers, but the TMC denied the charges saying the Opposition was not finding suitable candidates.
The panchayat elections in the state are scheduled for May 1, 3 and 5. The votes will be counted on May 8. As things stand, the TMC controls approximately 90% of the zila parishad and panchayat seats in the state.
A bench of Justices RK Agrawal and AM Sapre, while declining the BJP’s plea on Monday, said it hoped the state election commission would take appropriate measures to address the apprehensions raised by the party.
“We are inclined to dispose of this petition by granting liberty to all political parties, their candidates, including any independent candidate/s proposing to contest the election in question, to approach the State Election Commissioner with their any individual or/and collective grievance. We hope and trust that in order to ensure fair and free election to the panchayats, the State Election Commission shall take appropriate steps to remove the apprehensions of the petitioner and/or intending candidates and they may not be deprived of their chance to contest the panchayat elections,” Justice Agrawal said in the judgment.
The BJP responded to the order saying it had already appealed to the state election commission and the governor but the issues remained unresolved. “After all the routes appear closed. We appealed to the apex court for relief, but they said they won’t interfere,” BJP’s West Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh said.
The TMC’s Kalyan Banerjee said the reason cited by the BJP to seeking the Central forces were “vague” and that the state government was providing necessary help to the state election commission for conducting free and fair polls.
In 2013, the Centre had provided forces for rural polls following then state election commissioner Meera Pande’s request.
Even as the BJP and the TMC were bickering over the elections, the CPI(M) accused the two parties of having a “tacit understanding”.
“We did not move the court. The courts are not supposed to interfere. There is an understanding between Trinamool Congress and the BJP at the highest level,” said Sujan Chakraborty, a CPI(M)) MLA.
The panchayat polls are being seen as a warm-up match for the BJP and the Trinamool ahead the 2019 parliamentary elections in the state, where nearly 40 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats are located in rural and semi-urban areas.