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Trinamul skips all-party meet on polls

- Election commission dubs move unexpected, Mamata speaks of ‘unilateral decisions’

Calcutta, July 6: Trinamul today skipped an all-party meeting called by the state election commission on the panchayat polls, hours after which Mamata Banerjee said at a rally: “You have been taking all decisions unilaterally; why should we go?”

Commission officials said the panel had received a letter from industries minister and Trinamul leader Partha Chatterjee in the afternoon saying the party could not attend the meeting as it had been called at short notice.

The meeting had been called on Wednesday.

The meeting, convened by state election commissioner Mira Pande at the panel office in Sarojini Naidu Sarani, started 30 minutes late because Trinamul had allegedly failed to inform the commission that no representative would attend the session.

The possibility of advancing the polling time by an hour — 6am to 4pm instead of 7am to 5pm — was discussed at the meeting. Security arrangements were also discussed.

Commission officials said the ruling party’s absence was “unexpected”.

Senior state government officials criticised Trinamul’s decision to skip the meeting on condition of anonymity.

“This blatant disregard for constitutional bodies and the due processes of democracy does not augur well for the state. The ruling party has maintained this attitude in dealing with the commission for nearly a year,” a bureaucrat said.

At a campaign rally in south Barasat in the afternoon, Mamata said: “Today, an all-party meeting was called. Some are asking why the Trinamul Congress did not go. Why should we go? You have been taking all decisions unilaterally; why should we go? Did you ever listen to us?

“Did you listen to what we had to say about the elections not being held during Ramazan? Did you listen to what we said on the elections not being held on Jumma (Friday)? Did you listen to what we said about the possibility of floods? You didn’t. Why should we go?”

The dates for the five-phase elections were fixed by the Supreme Court, which directed the state and the commission to hold the polls on July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25. The elections will be held in the holy month of Ramazan. Of the five dates, July 19 is a Friday.

The government and the state election commission have been locked in a tussle for more than a year over a host of issues relating to the conduct of the panchayat polls.

Sources in Trinamul, which used to skip all-party meetings while in the Opposition too, said it had been decided by the “highest leadership” that the party would criticise the commission and the Opposition during the poll campaign.

Commission secretary Tapas Ray said this evening: “The remarks of the ruling party, being made consistently, are unfortunate.”

The Congress and the CPM criticised Trinamul’s decision to skip today’s meeting.

“Doesn’t Trinamul understand that the commission is merely carrying out the Supreme Court’s order?”

Congress leader Manas Bhunia asked after the meeting. CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb echoed Bhunia.

Writers’ officials said the “democratic fabric” could suffer if the tensions between the government and the commission continued.

“If this becomes the norm, there will be such clashes during every election, by-election and roll revision. That is neither healthy nor desirable,” a Writers’ source said.