West Bengal panchayat polls to be held on May 14: State election panel

West Bengal panchayat polls had to be deferred after opposition parties moved courts alleging violence and intimidation by the ruling Trinamool Congress during the nomination process.
The opposition BJP, CPI-M, Congress and PDS had moved the court, accusing the Trinamool of unleashing massive pre-poll violence against their party workers to prevent them from filing nominations for the polls ever since the process began on April 2(PTi File Photo)
The opposition BJP, CPI-M, Congress and PDS had moved the court, accusing the Trinamool of unleashing massive pre-poll violence against their party workers to prevent them from filing nominations for the polls ever since the process began on April 2(PTi File Photo)
Updated on Apr 26, 2018 09:34 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By

West Bengal panchayat elections will be held on May 14, the state election commission said on Thursday, triggering allegations from opposition parties that the single-phase voting decision was taken to oblige the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Before the polling process was stalled following opposition parties moving the Calcutta high court, alleging widespread violence, the poll body had notified three-phase voting between May 1 and May 5.

“The elections will be held on May 14. Repoll, if any, will be held on May 16. The date of counting has not yet been decided,” said the poll body’s secretary, Nilanjan Shandilya. “Polling will be held between 7 am and 5 pm,” he added.

At the time of the copy being published, the poll body was yet to issue the formal notification. Election officials did not comment on buzz that the counting of votes could take place on May 17.

Over the last few days, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s stated position was the state government did not want the polls to be held during Ramzan month (likely to begin around mid-May), or during peak summer, or rains. During the day, the state government formally informed state election commissioner AK Singh that it was in favour of single-phase polling.

“The single phase was decided in view of the Ramzan month,” said Shandilya.

The CM said, “We are happy with the new poll schedule. We demanded that the polls must be held before Ramzan. Now, I request all opposition parties to contest the polls instead of getting into unnecessary mudslinging.” She added, “I have information that people from outside Bengal have been brought in to create trouble. We will not tolerate this. We will strengthen vigil along the state border.”

Opposition leaders, who have accused the Trinamool of unleashing violence during the nomination phase that claimed seven lives, pointed out the state has around 46,000 armed police personnel and 12,000 more without firearms, while there are more than 58,400 polling stations.

“It appears that the poll panel wants to conduct the elections with the help of Trinamool Congress workers and not policemen. Is this an election at all?” said Pratap Banerjee, general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state unit.

Congress MLA and leader of the opposition in the Bengal assembly, Abdul Mannan, said, “The polling process has turned into a farce.” He accused the election commissioner of “taking every step at the instruction of the state secretariat”.

The CPI(M) too attacked the poll body. “The state election commission has turned the polls into child’s play. How can polls be held in a day when there are not enough security personnel?” said CPI(M) leader and advocate Bikash Bhattacharyya.

Opposition leaders said the state would be hard-pressed to find enough polling personnel. Ballot papers will be used and each booth will require five polling personnel, turning the single-day exercise into a logistical nightmare, the opposition alleged.

Incidentally, during the 2014 general elections, two police personnel with firearms and two constables with batons were deployed at booths deemed highly sensitive in the state. Booths deemed normal had one police official with weapon and one constable.

Despite attempts, the state election commissioner could not be reached for comment.

Oppn parties file fewer nominations, accuse Trinamool of intimidation

The BJP succeeded in fielding candidates from just 57% of West Bengal’s gram panchayat seats, allegedly due to attempts by the ruling Trinamool Congress to prevent opposition parties from filing nominations.

While Left Front candidates filed nominations from 40% of the seats, the Congress remained a distant third at 15%.

The Trinamool, by contrast, fielded 58,978 candidates from 48,650 seats across the state. There is nothing untoward about this, considering that more than one candidate from a party are allowed to file nominations from one seat. The party eventually gives its symbol to just one candidate, forcing the others to either withdraw or contest as independents.

“These figures prove that the nomination exercise was a farce. We fear that the situation will get even worse during polling,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.

Sujan Chakraborty, leader of the Left parties in the state assembly, also accused the Trinamool of intimidating opposition candidates. “The figures speak for themselves. Left candidates have been prevented from filing nominations by both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP,” he said.

The ruling party, however, trashed the accusations. “How are we responsible if the opposition parties are unable to find candidates to fight for them?” asked party secretary general and state education minister Partha Chatterjee.

SIT to probe murder on last day of nomination

Birbhum district police changed the investigating officer and set up a special investigation team (SIT) to investigate the murder of Dildar Khan on April 23, the last day of filing of nominations.

On Tuesday night, police arrested four persons in connection with Khan’s murder. The arrests triggered a war of words between the BJP and the Trinamool.

The BJP claimed the slain man and all the four persons arrested for his murder were its activists. The Trinamool, however, insisted Khan was their party activist.

“Investigation is going on. We have set up a four-member SIT to work on the case,” said N Sudheer Kumar, superintendent of police, Birbhum.

Khan, who was in his thirties, was shot dead at Suri in Birbhum district on Monday.

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