The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Free, fair' It was always so

Calcutta, April 28: Stung by the praise heaped on the Election Commission for holding a “free, fair and peaceful” election, the CPM struck back today to claim that it was always so in Bengal.

A day after the third phase of polls in Calcutta and North and South 24-Parganas, which, like the first two, went off without an incident and a complaint, former chief minister Jyoti Basu said: “Since 1977, all elections in Bengal have been free and fair, thanks to the tradition of environment of political independence and multiple choices.”

The CPM leadership met today to discuss the conduct of polls and its assessment of the likely popular response.

“Not a single election in Bengal since 1977, be it to Parliament, Assembly or civic or panchayat bodies, could be said to have been unfair, manipulated or violent,” Basu said.

Suggestions of unfair and violent elections will hurt Basu more as most polls since 1977 were held under his administration.

Always high in Bengal, turnouts have been even larger in this election, for which the commission has claimed credit, though the CPM has also been saying that it was its stronger mobilisation effort which brought more people to polling booths.

Revised figures issued today showed polling in Calcutta at 62.49 per cent, in South 24-Parganas 80.28 and in North 82.82.

Public support for the commission has been vocal, particularly so yesterday. Deputy election commissioner Anand Kumar was openly congratulated by voters and the wide publicity has touched a raw nerve in the CPM.

Basu told The Telegraph: “I do not understand how a particular EC is being singled out for praise, forgetting that all previous ECs certified elections in Bengal as free and fair.”

The former chief minister then did the unthinkable, bringing Mamata Banerjee in to certify the Left’s record. “Mamata had to admit after the 2001 Assembly election that it was free and fair. For she had flashed the V-sign and asked journalists to be ready to meet her at Writers’ Buildings,” Basu said.

“Could she have made this assertion if she had not been convinced of the quality of that election'”

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