The high octane West Bengal Assembly Elections have come to an end and the counting of votes is scheduled to take place on Sunday. The state, that voted in eight phases between March 27 and April 29, witnessed several controversial incidents through the period of campaigning and voting. The EC banned roadshows and vehicle rallies in the state and noted that the COVID safety norms were being flouted in West Bengal during campaigning. Blotched by violence, vicious personal attacks and jingoistic fulminations, polling for one of the most gruelling and long-drawn West Bengal assembly elections concluded on Thursday.
Here are some of the controversies during the campaigning:
Mamata Banned from Campaigning
On April 12, the Election Commission banned Mamata Banerjee from campaigning for 24 hours over poll code violations after her remarks against central forces and a statement which had alleged religious overtones. Following this, Banerjee had threatened to sit on a dharna against “the undemocratic and unconstitutional decision". The Election Commission cited ‘highly insinuating and provocative remarks laden with serious potential of the breakdown of law and order’ as reason for the ban orders.
“Mamata Banerjee has in violation of the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct as well as Section 123(3) & 3A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and Sections 186, 189 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 made highly insinuating and provocative remarks laden with serious potential of the breakdown of law & order and thereby adversely affecting the election process," the poll body order said. It said that the “commission also imposes a ban of 24 hours on Ms Mamata Banerjee from campaigning in any manner from 8.00 pm of April 12 till 8.00 pm of April 13".
‘Leaked’ Audio Tapes
The BJP had last month released audio tapes between Ganesh Bagaria, a close aide of Anup Majhi who is accused in Coal Smuggling Case, and a government official. According to the BJP, the “leaked audio tapes" exposed corruption by TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee, a charge quickly rubbished by the ruling party that said the tapes were “concocted". Before that, on March 27, the BJP released an audio tape of chief minister Mamata Banerjee purportedly speaking to a BJP leader in East Medinipur and asking for his help before polling (on April 1) in the district’s Nandigram seat. The CM has contested the high-profile constituency against her lieutenant-turned-rival, Suvendu Adhikari.
The move was countered the same day by the TMC, which released an audio tape of a purported conversation between BJP leaders Mukul Roy and Shishir Bajoria, claiming that they were discussing a strategy to influence EC. Subsequently, it alleged that the election watchdog toed the BJP line on allowing polling agents from anywhere in an assembly constituency.
‘Attack’ on Mamata Banerjee
On March 10, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that she was attacked in Nandigram hours after she filed her nomination. The TMC claimed it was a planned attack on the party supremo. The inicident, which occured in Nandigram’s Birulia bazaar, left Mamata with an injured left leg.
However, the Election Commission of India (ECI) later concluded that the incident in Nandigram was not an attack. The EC, however, criticised the “flippant attitude” of chief minister’s Director Security Vivek Sahay. The commission said Sahay was sitting in the bullet-proof car meant for the VVIP, while the chief minister was using a normal vehicle. “The chief minister flouted the prescribed security norms/protocols, which could have led to tragic consequences,” the poll body said.
Row Over PM Modi’s Photo
In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was accused of violating the Model Code of Conduct with the EC receiving complaints about the PM’s photo being used in COVID vaccine certificates and on hordings near petrol pumps. Following the complaints, the EC directed all petrol pump dealers and other agencies to remove hoardings advertising central government schemes that carry photographs of PM Modi. The poll body also wrote to the health ministry urging them to follow the model code in letter and in spirit.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in accordance with directives of the Election Commission, introduced filters on CoWin website to mask the PM’s photo on the vaccination certificates meant for distribution in the poll-bound states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and Kerala, and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
Protests over BJP nominations
Several protests were reported outside BJP offices across the state with the party workers claiming to be unhappy with the choice of the candidate. In one such case, the nomination of Ashok Lahiri, a former chief economic advisor to the Government of India, from the Alipurduar constituency landed in a controversy. Unaware of the development, district party president Ganga Prasad Sharma said that he hadn’t even heard of Lahiri and didn’t know anything about him. The BJP later changed its candidate in Alipurduar, and fielded Suman Kanjilal instead of Lahiri.