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Andhra, Bengal Chief Ministers protest Election Commission orders

Two opposition chief ministers on Wednesday questioned decisions made by the Election Commission (EC) and demanded that orders given by the poll watchdog be rolled back in the interest of fairness ahead of the upcoming general elections.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 28, 2019 00:18 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu and Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu and Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Hyderabad and Kolkata
lok sabha elections,lok sabha,election commission
In West Bengal, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee sought the removal of former director general of the Border Security Force (BSF), K K Sharma, as special police observer for West Bengal and Jharkhand.(PTI)

Two opposition chief ministers on Wednesday questioned decisions made by the Election Commission (EC) and demanded that orders given by the poll watchdog be rolled back in the interest of fairness ahead of the upcoming general elections.

In the morning, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu warned of legal action if the EC failed to withdraw its order transferring three senior police officers. ““Prima facie, this order of ECI [Election Commission of India] is contradicting its own guidelines, totally biased and violates the principles of natural justice… I request the ECI to review its decision and cancel the transfer orders…,” Naidu said in a letter to the commission.

“Election Commission transferred three officials without any reason. We condemn it. How can you take action based on YSRCP [YSR Congress Party] complaint?” he said.

In the afternoon, the government moved the Andhra Pradesh high court, seeking a stay on the transfer order. The court listed the matter for hearing on Thursday.

The controversy broke out on Tuesday when the EC ordered the transfer of director general of police (intelligence) A B Venkateshwar Rao and two other Indian Police Service officers – Srikakulam superintendent of police (SP) Venkata Ratnam and Kadapa SP?? Rahul Dev Sharma -- after the principal opposition party, the YSR Congress party, alleged illegal surveillance and tapping of opposition leaders’ phones.

On Tuesday night, chief secretary Anil Punetha attached the three officers with the police headquarters and barred them from taking any election-related duty, as per EC directions.

On Wednesday afternoon, the chief secretary revised his orders and issued a fresh order stating that only Srikakulam and Kadapa SPs be attached to the police headquarters, thereby retaining the intelligence chief in the same position. He also issued a separate order bringing all the police officials – right from Director General of Police to the constables, under the purview of the EC till the election process was completed, barring DGP (Intelligence).

Andhra Pradesh chief electoral officer Gopala Krishna Dwivedi could not be reached for comment, YSR Congress spokesman Botsa Satyanarayana said his party demanded the transfer of not only the state intelligence chief, but also a few other senior police officials, who, he alleged, were acting like puppets in the hands of the Naidu government.

Meanwhile, in West Bengal, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee sought the removal of former director general of the Border Security Force (BSF), K K Sharma, as special police observer for West Bengal and Jharkhand.

Banerjee alleged that Sharma had attended meetings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in uniform in the presence of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Howrah (Rantideb Sengupta) and questioned his neutrality.

Banerjee also displayed a photograph purportedly showing Sharma attending the event.

“A man has been appointed as special observer for West Bengal and Jharkhand who attended a meeting of RSS in uniform! I respect this khaki dress. It should be used for the safety of the people. He forgot everything... We will write to the ECI. If this goes on, there will be no value of democracy,” she said. “We will write a strong letter to EC and seek his removal.”

Sengupta said that he sees no reason for stirring a controversy over the event. “The RSS is not any political organisation. It was a social event. I was there as an RSS member but he went there to support the cause the organisation espouses,” Sengupta said.

The said event took place in 2018 and at that time the BSF had issued a statement saying Sharma attended the conference on ‘border management practices’ because efficient border management could not be carried out without the participation of the local population.

Sharma was not available for comment and the EC did not respond to Banerjee’s charge.

On Tuesday, the poll panel appointed Sharma, a 1982-batch IPS officer, as Special Central Police Observer for West Bengal and Jharkhand to oversee the deployment of security forces and other security related issues in the two states.

In a separate letter to the EC, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) alleged that the move was “patently questionable and would raise the question of political partisanship.”

First Published: Mar 28, 2019 00:18 IST