Tribune News Service
New Delhi, May 15
The Election Commission of India has cut short campaigning in West Bengal over allegations of increased election violence.
The Election Commission invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution on Wednesday to announce that campaigning will end on May 16—24 hours before its scheduled end.
The campaign ban applies from Thursday, 10 pm.
The commission also ordered transfer of Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General (CID) Rajeev Kumar from their current postings in West Bengal.
The principal secretary (home) has been transferred out "for having interfered in process of conducting polls by directing West Bengal CEO", senior election official Chandra Bhushan Ojha announced at a hurriedly called press conference. Chief Secretary Malay Dey will take charge of the home department in addition to his own duties. Kumar, the controversial former police commissioner of Kolkata, meanwhile has been asked to report to the central Ministry of Home Affairs.
"No election campaigning to be held in nine parliamentary constituencies of West Bengal—Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata— from 10 pm tomorrow till the conclusion of polls," Ojha said, adding that it was “probably the first time that the commission has invoked Article 324 in this manner”.
In a statement issued later, the Election Commission said: “The commission is deeply anguished at the vandalism done to the statue of Vidyasagar. It is hoped that the vandals are traced by the state administration”.
The developments came on a day when the Bharatiya Janata Party and West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress traded charges of violence over the saffron party’s national president Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday.
In a series of press briefings, the BJP and the TMC each accused the other of having engaged in rioting a day after clashes led to vandalising of a statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, one of Bengal’s most revered social reformers.
BJP also accused the Election Commission of being a “mute spectator” to the TMC's supposed involvement in violence in the state. The TMC, whose firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee—the state’s chief minister—has been frequently posited as a contender for the prime ministerial position, in turn released a video that supposedly shows a group of BJP workers vandalising the statue.
An increase in election violence in West Bengal as India’s mammoth elections come to a close has led to an increase in security.
The commission’s decisions drew harsh criticism from West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee, who accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP's Amit Shah of engineering it.
At a press conference she held after the commission announced its decision, she said the EC should jave “taken action” Shah for Tuesday’s violence.
“There’s no law and order problem in West Bengal. Clamping of Article 324 was unprecedented, unconstitutional, and unethical,” she said.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has been investigating Rajeev Kumar, who is believed to be close to Banerjee, in connection with its probe into the Saradha Chit Fund Scam. CBI has approached the Supreme Court for Kumar’s custody.
CBI’s investigation of Kumar led to standoff between the Centre and Banerjee’s government in February, when CBI investigators landed in Kolkata to question Kumar.
That incident has only added to the already existing acrimony between the TMC and the BJP.