New Delhi: The decision of the Election Commission to curtail campaigning in West Bengal has triggered a political slugfest, with a united Opposition throwing its weight behind Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and accusing the poll body of bowing down in front of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress on Thursday said the Election Commission had lost its credibility and independence, and time had come to review the process of the poll panel's appointment.
Asking if the EC was following the ‘Modi Code of Misconduct’, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the order prohibiting campaigning in West Bengal by 20 hours is a "dark spot" on India's democracy and institutions like the Election Commission.
"Election Commission has completely abdicated its Constitutional duty under Art 324 to ensure level playing field, besides negating the due process under Article 14 and 21 of India's Constitution," he told reporters. "The time has come to review the process of appointment of Election Commission," he said, calling for a national debate on the issue.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati too joined the chorus, saying, “The Election Commission has banned campaigning in West Bengal, but from 10 pm on Thursday just because the PM has two rallies in the day. If they had to ban then why not from Thursday morning? This is unfair and EC is acting under pressure.”
She added, “It is clear that PM Modi, Amit Shah and their leaders are targeting Mamata Banerjee, it's planned targeting. This is a very dangerous and unjust trend and one which doesn't suit the PM of the country.”
While the Opposition has been upping the ante, the BJP has called the poll body’s decision a validation of its complaint that Bengal has descended into anarchy. On Wednesday, Union minister Arun Jaitley tweeted: “A constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India, has effectively held Bengal to be a state in Anarchy. Repeatedly escalating violence, state supported Vandals, a partisan police and home department are the illustrations the ECI has given.”
In the first such action in India's electoral history, the Election Commission on Wednesday ordered to end the campaigning early in the wake of violence between BJP and TMC workers in Kolkata.
The poll body also removed with immediate effect two senior state officials in West Bengal - Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General, CID, Rajeev Kumar. “This is probably the first time that the EC has invoked Article 324 in this manner but it may not be the last in cases of repetition of lawlessness and violence, which vitiate the conduct of polls in a peaceful manner,” Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said at a press conference in New Delhi.
The nine constituencies affected by the ban are Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata, which are scheduled to go to polls in the last phase on May 19.
Both BJP and Trinamool Congress have traded charges of inciting violence at BJP president Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday evening. The state capital had witnessed a major law and order crisis after a large number of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members clashed with Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP) supporters at College Street.
A statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a noted philosopher and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance, was also damaged after suspected ABVP supporters allegedly barged in to the nearby Vidyasagar College at Shankar Ghose Lane and went on a rampage.
Deputy Election Commissioner Kumar added that “the EC is deeply anguished at the vandalism done to the statue of Vidyasagar. It is hoped that the vandals are traced by the state administration”.
Both the BJP and the TMC have accused each other of bringing down the statue and have promised payback in terms of votes. The battle over Vidyasagar could have some impact as voters turn up to cast their ballots on May 19.