New Delhi: The Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are set to embark on a hectic campaigning schedule on Thursday as canvassing for nine West Bengal constituencies will end at 10 pm, a day before its scheduled deadline.
In 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.
Reacting to the spate of poll-related violence in West Bengal, the poll body on took unprecedented steps by invoking Article 324 of the Constitution to curtail canvassing.
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 the 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 at least a limited impact as voters turn up to cast their ballots on May 19.
The EC also announced that two senior officials in the state were transferred out. While Kumar has been attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Bhattacharya “stands relieved from his current charge immediately for having interfered in process of conducting polls by directing WB CEO” through an earlier order.
Attacking the EC for curtailing the campaigning, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee said it is an "unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical gift" to PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah by the poll panel. Banerjee, also the chief minister, said she had never seen this type of EC which is "biased and full of RSS people".
At a press conference on Wednesday, Shah went so far as to say that the EC was behaving like "a mute spectator" when TMC cadre were flouting electoral norms and engaging in violence in West Bengal.
“I have never seen such political riots in Calcutta in all my life. We will not spare them, we will give a fitting reply through votes,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said on Tuesday after visiting Vidyasagar College.
Shortly after the violence, all top TMC leaders changed their Twitter display pictures to that of Vidyasagar in order to evoke hurt among the larger Bengali community.
Shah, meanwhile, rubbished Banerjee’s claims and accused her of destroying the bust of “that great teacher and reformer” for votes. "I'm also frustrated, that's why I've come before you," he said.
Shah claimed that the room in which Vidyasagar's bust was installed was locked in the campus where TMC cadre have a sizeable presence. The key to the locked room was also with the opposing cadre, he alleged.
Shah claimed that Banerjee was engaging in acts of vandalism as she could foresee an impending poll defeat for herself. He claimed that the BJP would win at least 23 seats in the state and cross over the 300-seat mark.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Banerjee said that she did not have “words to condemn the incident”.
“I’m ashamed and I apologise… that as people of Bengal, we cannot respect Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar because of these BJP goons. These leaders will be leaders of the nation? Those who cannot show respect for the icons?” she asked.