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EC army on way, Left back to wall

Calcutta, Jan. 6: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government and the CPM appeared on the backfoot today with the Election Commission's announcement that a team of 19 observers led by K.J. Rao, the man who made even Bihar polls 'free and fair', would oversee the electoral roll revision here.

'We knew that observers would be coming, but we did not bargain for Rao ' at least, not so soon,' a senior government official said at Writers' Buildings today.

He added that though a team of observers was expected to tour the districts during the roll revision, the government did not expect an observer for every district.

The state election office, which received the news yesterday evening, was buzzing with activity this morning.

'We're keeping all records relating to claims, objections and form disposals ready, as desired by the commission. It has also asked us to give wide publicity to the arrival of the team led by Rao, its adviser,' said an official in the state election department.

Jyoti Basu told the media at the CPM office that the party was not at all worried about Rao's visit.

'West Bengal is not Bihar. Even he (T.N. Seshan) had said that after the peaceful 2001 elections. People will still vote for us,' the veteran of many polls said.

He added: 'I don't know what the Election Commission is up to this time. Till now, nobody has criticised us. Every election has been held in a free and fair manner.'

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas, too, tried to put up a brave face. 'Rao has efficiently handled the Bihar polls and we would be happy if free and fair elections are held in Bengal,' he said.

Biswas added that Rao's trip to Nadia ' most complaints regarding the pre-poll process have been reported from there 'would be an eye opener for him. 'It is good that he is visiting Nadia where nine Trinamul Congress activists have already been arrested for forging voter identity cards. Rao will get to see another face of the Trinamul Congress.'

Contacted in Delhi, Rao refused to react to his Bengal assignment. 'I can't say anything now. Let me first go there and have talks with all concerned,' he said, adding that he would be coming here 'with an open mind'.

He will fly to the city from Chennai on Sunday evening and hold meetings with political parties in Nadia the next day.

Biswas is entrusted with the CPM affairs of Nadia.

During their weeklong stay, the observers will monitor distribution of voter identity cards, disposal of applications for inclusion/deletion of names from voter lists and claims and objections relating to the disposal.

R.K. Khandelwal, an IAS officer from Bihar, will tour Murshidabad and Sudhir Kumar, another IAS officer from that state, will go to North 24- Parganas.

Anil Garg and Anil Sant, two Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officers, will camp in West Midnapore and Birbhum.

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