EC’s response to Mamata’s complaint on Nandigram booth smacks of bias against opposition parties

The Election Commission of India accusing the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of ‘misdemeanour’ and contemplating to take severe action against her is unprecedented

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

Arun Srivastava

The Election Commission of India accusing the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of ‘misdemeanour’ and contemplating to take severe action against her is unprecedented in the electoral history of the country and smacks of bias against opposition parties.

The EC’s threat of taking legal action against her is in response to Mamata’s complaint that her polling agent was not allowed to sit in booth number 7 at Boyal, her party activists were beaten up by BJP supporters, and outsiders had entered into the booth and captured it.

While in a strongly worded response to the complaint from Mamata Banerjee on April 1, the Election Commission rejected her allegations about the presence of outsiders at a Nandigram polling booth as “factually incorrect” and “devoid of substance”, it also threatened her of legal action.

The Commission also mentioned that her letter mentioning booth capturing and outsiders’ presence was “preceded by a massive coverage all over the country… which showed dozens of audio-visual shots of your being in this polling station and literally hurling an avalanche of allegations on some officials working with the government of West Bengal itself, paramilitary forces and eventually the Election Commission”.

The fact is she was not inside the booth and spent nearly two hours sitting outside the booth.

The Commission said it is unfortunate that a “media narrative was sought to be weaved hour after hour to misguide the biggest stakeholders, which is the voters, by a candidate who also happens to be CM of the state”. Does the Commission intend to say that media has been at the beck and call of Mamata? In fact, the EC was making insinuations against the media for covering the incident.

If at all the Election Commission was so concerned of the fallout of her “side show”, it should have acted fast. It is heartening to note that EC does not allege that she staged a dharna creating hindrance in the polling process. Instead it mentions: “And all this was being done when the election process was/is on. There could not have been a greater misdemeanour”.

In fact, if the EC was interested in holding a free and fair election, it should not have ignored 63 complaints lodged by Mamata since that morning. Mamata had even contacted the Governor Jagdeep Dhankar and lodged a complaint with him. It is really a matter of shame for the Election Commission. The attitude and approach of EC had provoked her to remark that ‘EC was working at the direction of Amit Shah’.

The latest action of the EC is more for protecting the CEC and other commissioners. Mamata, besides writing to Dhankar, has also threatened to take legal action. In this backdrop, proverbial “offence is the best defence” has been the best mechanism to steer clear of the crisis.

The CEC knows it well that under the existing rules and provisions, he can put Mamata in embarrassing situation. This would deflect the attention of the people and political parties from its own misdemeanour.

It is worth mentioning the observation of the Chief Electoral Officer of Bengal, Ariz Aftab. He said: “Wheelchair-bound Banerjee was stuck in the booth for almost two hours before a large number of CAPF personnel and senior officers reached there and escorted her out, after bringing the situation under control.”

If Mamata was creating problems, then why did she have to be “escorted” out? In fact, she was gheraoed by the aggressive BJP cadres who were shouting “Jai Sri Ram” slogans.

In all fairness the EC should have mentioned this in its letter instead of writing “side show”.

Though Mamata had demanded re-polling at the said booth, the Commission did not concede to her demand. This is certainly not a good omen. It appears that it relied more on denial of the BJP candidate who said it was mere allegations levelled by the TMC and claimed the ruling party ‘has lost it, sensing defeat’.

The EC owes a rational reply why it did not order a repoll at this booth.

Significantly, when Mamata reached Boyal, she was greeted with the slogan ‘Jai Sri Ram’ being shouted by the BJP workers.

Surprisingly these incidents occurred despite Nandigram constituency being placed under Section 144 to contain possible violence. Even before Mamata arrived at the booth, rumours were rife, with Godi media taking the lead, that Mamata had lost the battle.

That Nandigram would get the Central government’s favour has been an open secret as Subhendu Adhikari, the blue eyed boy of Amit Shah, was opposing the bete noire of Shah. The BJP also has the entire central machinery at its beck and call.

In fact, questions are being raised over the conduct of Election Commission of India (ECI) of late. Some of the steps the EC has taken, such as the eleventh-hour tweak in the rules to allow non-residents to become polling agents, have raised eyebrows.

Significantly, in its letter, the Election Commission mentioned that the TMC polling agent refused to sit in the booth; as such the Commission could not do anything. The EC is absolutely right in raising its hand. But does this not incident provide an insight into the reign of terror and repression let lose by the BJP goons?

The officials could have taken cognisance of the prevailing situation. They could have made out the reason why the TMC election agent’s mother was pleading before the EC officials not to ask her son to go to the election booth. They could have taken seriously her allegation that he has been “threatened last night by opposition parties’.

The EC sent a point-by-point response to Mamata Banerjee's letter citing concerns over alleged discrepancies during voting at the Boyal polling booth in Nandigram on April 1. But it ought to explain why officials against whom the TMC and Mamata have raised objections were deputed as the observers. The observers, as expected, said that there was "no mention of either outsiders or guns and goons capturing the said booth".

Though the EC tried to project the simple incident as an avalanche that was fraught with "immense potential to have adverse effect on the law and order across West Bengal and maybe in some other states", thankfully, it did not create even a small law and order problem in the neighbouring districts.

The EC is free to initiate any action either under the sections of the Model Code of Conduct and the Representation of the People Act, but it ought to not to forget that it would malign its own image, discredit itself in the eyes of the common Indian and smear the face of the BJP stalwarts. Already, the people of West Bengal have started rallying behind Mamata. Besides ensuring a clean sweep for her, the EC’s action would catapult Mamata as the Bengal’s face of peoples’ resistance against the BJP rule.

(IPA Service)

Views are personal and not that of the National Herald

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