Calcutta, March 10: The party that swears by “Madam” has found a “mohodaya” to accuse of conspiracy in the run-up to the panchayat polls.
Mira Pande, the state election commissioner and a retired IAS officer, was today singled out for attack by Mukul Roy, Trinamul’s all-India general secretary, who attributed motives to the panel’s refusal to cut short the duration of the rural elections.
“Election commissioner mohodaya CPM-er hoye kaaj korchhen. Tini panchayat polls delay korchhen CPM-er har thekabar jonye (Madam election commissioner is working on behalf of the CPM. She is delaying the panchayat polls to stave off a CPM defeat),” Mukul told a media conference at the Trinamul headquarters.
“I have a strong feeling that a conspiracy is under way to delay the election in order to keep the CPM happy. I think there’s an understanding with the CPM,” the Trinamul MP said.
Mukul did not refer to her by name. But neither did he leave any doubt that his target was Pande, who has been heading the poll panel since April 2009.
Based on inputs from district officials, the election commissioner had proposed that the panchayat polls be held in three phases and with the assistance of the central forces.
The Mamata government was initially in favour of single-phase polls, apparently because it did not want intra-party feuds to play themselves out during the multiple rounds and was worried that a long duration would be construed as a reflection of poor law and order.
Later, the government suggested a two-phase polls with additional assistance drawn from the police forces in the neighbouring districts.
Mukul, however, did not explain why he was accusing the commissioner of “delaying” the polls. The rural bodies were elected for a five-year term in polls held in May 2008, which means the polls are due in April-May. The elected representatives in panchayat polls can take charge only after the tenure of the earlier bodies gets over.
Few public representatives have imputed a direct political motive to an election commissioner. The Left is no stranger to run-ins with the commission in Delhi but it usually does not pick out individual officers for attack.
An exception was T.N. Seshan, the chief election commissioner who became popular by taking on the governments of the day but drew charges of grandstanding and playing to the gallery.
Pande cannot be accused of either. Known as a stickler for rules and procedures, she had confined her activities to administrative circles when she was in the service and continued on the same vein in her new assignment.
Today, even after Mukul had aired his version, Pande declined to be drawn into a public exchange of words. Contacted by The Telegraph, Pande said that she had no comments to offer.
Some senior state government officials, however, stood by her and said that the 1974-batch officer was under attack for “doing her job” by the book.
“There is no way one can accuse her of delaying the polls as she has not done anything to push the elections beyond May,” said a senior official.
Trinamul has been toying with the idea of bringing the panchayat polls forward, a plan Mamata Banerjee announced during the July 21 rally at Esplanade East. The party preferred polls before anti-incumbency set in and inner-party squabbles worsened.
But administrative reasons — ranging from finalisation of draft electoral rolls to schedules of public exams — came in the way of the government’s plans to advance the polls.
“The government has been keen on advancing the elections for political reasons. Pande has always been a brilliant officer with an impeccable record. Why should she be party to such political decisions?” asked an official.
The next point of divergence of opinion emerged when Pande suggested polls in three phases under central forces. The commission did not budge from its position, which prompted Mukul to comment on Friday that it was “crossing its limits”.
“Pande wants three-phase polls under central forces having learnt about the law-and-order situation from the district magistrates…. The same DMs must be giving the same information to the chief secretary, home secretary and the panchayat secretary. The question is, why can’t these senior officers convince their political masters about the need for three-phase polls under central forces?” asked an official.
However, Mukul suggested that the state government would have the last word.
“The poll panel should know that the state government has the sole authority to announce the date for the panchayat polls in consultation with it under Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Act, 2003,” Mukul said, adding that the poll panel was just a “consultative agency”.
A poll panel official said that if the government declared a poll roster and security arrangements without taking into account the recommendations of the commission, the poll monitor had the right to request a review of the decision.
No one could explain with certainty the consequences if the government still stuck to its stand. “If that happens, it will be another insult to a constitutional body,” said an official.
Such a pattern has been emerging in Bengal: paint those with differing views as CPM agents and then intimidate them from public platforms.
State human rights commission chairman Asok Ganguly faced the chief minister’s ire after he recommended compensation for Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and action against the policemen who had arrested him.
Prasad Roy, the chairman of the West Bengal State Electricity Regulatory Commission, had come in the line of fire when the commission advocated a power tariff increase to keep utilities afloat.
The police and legal fraternities too speak of such treatment. A recent high-profile victim was the Calcutta police commissioner who lost his job for proceeding against a Trinamul leader in the Garden Reach murder case.