The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rule of law bites mighty CPM

Calcutta, June 19: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s administration today showed a different face by standing up for the rule of law even if it meant wielding the stick on party leaders during the civic polls in Salt Lake.

Police action provoked by an assault on a government official pitted the administration against a section of the CPM as batons landed on Amitava Nandi, an MP, and Joykrishna Ghosh, a close aide of Jyoti Basu.

The CPM secretary for Bengal, Anil Biswas, stuck up for the administration and dismissed cries of police excess from leaders like Nandi and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, both from the fractious party unit in North 24-Parganas, of which Salt Lake is a part.

It was clear that if the government had decided polls in Salt Lake were to be held under a police force ' a huge number was deployed ' that would act in a non-partisan manner, it had the party’s blessing.

Calcutta also voted today in municipal elections spread across 141 wards without a major incident.

With only 23 wards, Salt Lake grabbed the spotlight as Nandi and Ghosh got hurt when they tried to enter a polling booth from where the police were forcibly driving out “outsiders”.

The incident took on larger political dimensions as Jyoti Basu lent his voice to accusations of police excess.

In the backdrop of Chakraborty’s complaint yesterday that the police were stopping CPM supporters from entering Salt Lake, the crackdown at ward 12 suggested the administration was given a free hand in the township.

The police stepped in when Arindam Mukherjee, the deputy magistrate of Barasat who was in charge of the ward, was pushed around and slapped after he asked a group of people in the booth to prove their identities as voters.

Nandi heard of the police action and rushed into the school compound where polling was going on with Ghosh, claiming that he had every right to enter the booth as he was an MP. Sticking to the rules, the police did not allow him in and continued their flush-out operation in which the duo was injured.

Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said: “Police action was ordered after an assault on Mukherjee.

“The administration had instructed the police to take all measures to ensure fair and peaceful election without consideration for political hues, dadas, MPs, MLAs or ministers.”

As the minister in charge of the police, Bhattacharjee is getting sucked into the controversy with Chakraborty and Nandi telling Biswas that they would like to discuss the incident with him tomorrow in the chief minister’s presence.

Biswas merely said: “There was tension at the booth caused by Trinamul Congress activists. It would have been better had this type of incident not taken place.”

Earlier in the day, Biswas had pulled up Nandi when he threatened to take party representatives off polling booths because of what he saw as police highhandedness. Biswas said they would remain where they had been posted.

It appears the CPM wanted the polls in Salt Lake to take place without the oft-heard complaint from citizens of being unable to vote. Possibly, this intention was part of its efforts to win over upper middle class voters, who have generally not supported it, by making the affluent township with a substantial Hindi-speaking population an example of “free and fair” polling.

The troublesome North 24-Parganas unit turned renegade with its show of muscle-power and paid for it.

In Calcutta, there were the usual complaints of rigging, though less than in the Lok Sabha polls. The first-ever exit poll in a civic election here ' done by STAR Ananda ' showed the CPM getting a comfortable majority.

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