Non-BJP parties, including the TMC, the state’s ruling party, had poll rallies planned for Friday, which was to have been the campaign's last day.
After the action taken by the Election Commission in the wake of the terrible clashes between workers of the BJP and the Trinamul Congress in Kolkata on Tuesday, the perception that the EC is showing a bias in favour of the ruling party at the Centre is likely to have deepened.
Since the May 2018 panchayat polls in West Bengal, the TMC has gained the reputation of strong-arming its political opponents wherever it could. Candidates of the Left parties and the Congress were even prevented from filing their nominations in many cases in that election. In the ongoing Lok Sabha polls too, the TMC's opponents, particularly the Left, have complained about the state ruling party’s high-handedness, but the EC took no notice. The farthest it went was to order a repoll in four booths.
In contrast, on Wednesday evening, for the first time ever, the EC cut short the campaign time by 19 hours in the last phase of polling in West Bengal. This amounts to being an adverse comment on the Mamata Banerjee government. It is hard to escape the inference that the EC’s action is linked to the allegation made by BJP president Amit Shah that his life was in danger during Tuesday's violence. Most observers of the scene are likely to take this with a pinch of salt.
In addition to cutting short the campaign time in the state for the remaining nine constituencies, under the directions of the EC the principal secretary (home) and additional DGP (CID) have been transferred out. This is action of a very stringent kind. This is a reason why it's seen as excessive, and flowing from the allegation made by Mr Shah.
What compounds it is that the EC’s action didn't flow from any inquiry into the violence during Mr Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, when a bust of iconic Bengal Renaissance figure Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was destroyed. It will be in the fitness of things if the EC offered an explanation for the action it has ordered.
With polling due on Sunday, perhaps there wasn’t adequate time for a satisfactory inquiry. In that case, it may have been best if the EC ordered the campaign to end on Tuesday night itself - and on all parties and candidates.
In the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had two rallies lined up for Thursday in West Bengal, was enabled to go ahead with his campaign as the clamp on canvassing was to apply from 10 pm Thursday, two hours after Mr Modi's last event. In contrast, non-BJP parties, including the TMC, the state's ruling party, had poll rallies planned for Friday, which was to have been the campaign’s last day. These were disallowed under the sudden guillotine of campaign time.