Article 324 gives special powers to the EC on the superintendence, direction and control of elections, including preparation of electoral rolls.
New Delhi: In an unprecedented move the Election Commission on Wednesday cut short the West Bengal poll campaign by almost 24 hours before schedule after the violence and desecreation of the statue of Bengali icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar during a clash between Trinamul Congress and BJP workers in Kolkata on Tuesday evening. This is the first time the EC has invoked Article 324 of the Constitution, but “this may not be the last time”, deputy election commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar declared.
The West Bengal campaign, which was expected to end at 5 pm on Friday evening, will now end at 10 pm on Thursday. Article 324 gives special powers to the EC on the superintendence, direction and control of elections, including preparation of electoral rolls.
Nine Lok Sabha seats in the state are going to the polls on May 19. The final phase in West Bengal will be held in Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Joynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata.
The EC has also transferred out two bureaucrats from West Bengal for “interfering in election process”. They are Atri Bhattacharya, principal secretary (home and hill affairs) and ADG (CID) Rajeev Kumar, the controversial former Kolkata police commissioner. The chief secretary is likely to monitor the work of the prinicpal secretary.
The EC’s decision to end the campaign early could hurt Trinamul Congress more as it will prevent chief minister Mamata Banerjee holding her planned mega roadshow in Kolkata Friday. Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to hold two rallies as per schedule in Dum Dum and Joynagar on Friday as the campaign ends only at 10 pm. Mr Modi’s rally at Dum Dum is due to end at 8 pm. Ms Banerjee was expected to hold three rallies on Thursday — two in South 24 Praganas and one in North 24 Paraganas. Ms Banerjee may now change her programme schedule and advance her mega roadshow in Kolkata by a day. The Trinamul top brass called for an emergency meeting after the EC order.
The EC said it has been brought to the commission’s notice that there were growing incidents of disruption and violence during the “political campaigns/processions in West Bengal during the ongoing general election to the Lok Sabha”. Saying it was “deeply anguished at the vandalism of the statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar”, the EC “hoped the vandals are tracked down by the state”. The ban includes a clampdown on campaigning through “cinematograph, television, musical concert, theatre or any other form of entertainment to attract the public for elections”.
Reacting sharply, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury asked: “If a ban is intended for 72 hours, why is it starting at 10 pm tomorrow? Is it to allow the two rallies of the PM before that?” Mr Yechury noted that earlier “we had made several complaints and written so many letters about violations and the breakdown of law and order with impunity in Bengal, on which there has been no response”.
West Bengal remained in the eye of the storm as the long-drawn seven-phase elections draw to a close. As polarisation remained the main thrust of the BJP, the alleged vandalising of the Bengali icon by “BJP goons” is set to polarise the state further. The polarisation of West Bengal, as alleged by the TMC, was not merely being done on religious but also on regional lines.
The BJP has been playing the card of “majority nationalism” and “regionalism”. Besides Muslims, which comprise around 20 per cent, Biharis and Marwaris also represent a large chunk of the state’s electorate. These “non-Bengalis” — Biharis and Marwaris — are among the major targets of the BJP.
The TMC alleged that the BJP had unleashed “gutka-chewing non-Bengalis” and “hired hoodlums from Hindi-speaking states” to attack students of Vidyasagar College and then vandalise the icon’s statute. On Tuesday, clashes broke out when black flags were shown to BJP president Amit Shah during his roadshow. In the violence that followed, the mob vandalised the college hostel and broke the 200-year-old statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Speaking in New Delhi on Wednesday, the BJP chief claimed TMC workers had triggered the violence and he would not have escaped unhurt without CRPF protection when his convoy was allegedly attacked. In a counter-allegation, he accused TMC workers of “vandalising the statue” and showed three photographs as evidence.
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