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Poll panel slams brakes on motorcycle rallies
Bar on two or more bikes

A Trinamul bike rally to campaign for the rural polls in West Midnapore’s Narajole last month. Picture by Samir Mondal

Calcutta, July 8: The state election commission today issued a notification against bike rallies, prohibiting two or more motorcyclists from riding together in all 17 poll-bound districts till the panchayat election process is over.

“Two or more bikes travelling together will not be allowed during the election process. If, for some reason, there is a need for two or more bikes to travel together, prior permission in writing has to be taken from the district administration,” a commission official said today.

The notification was sent to the district administrations this afternoon following repeated complaints that bike-borne supporters of the ruling party were intimidating Opposition candidates.

A commission official said: “Emergencies are not included, of course. A bike rally cannot be an emergency.”

The commission has received several complaints from the districts over the past few weeks regarding campaign rallies taken out by bike-borne political supporters.

At the all-party meeting in the commission office that Trinamul skipped on Saturday, the Congress, CPM and the BJP alleged that activists of the ruling party were organising bike processions across the state to intimidate voters and rival candidates.

Ashok Guria, the East Midnapore district secretariat member of the CPM, said about 30 Trinamul activists took out rallies in Gopalpur, Manoharpur, Ramchak, Balaramchak and Hajrakata in Nandigram this evening.

He said the group “ransacked the house of the main campaigner of our party in Ramchak, Naru Hazra, and threatened to drive him out of the village if he continued to campaign for the CPM”.

Manwara Bibi, a CPM candidate from South 24-Parganas, had mentioned in her petition in Calcutta High Court that she was virtually under house-arrest as bike-borne supporters of the ruling party were harassing her.

The commission, however, took the decision to avert the possibility of such intimidation by all political parties, as it has received complaints against most of them.

“From the local level, people have complained not only against the ruling party but also against the Opposition. Apparently, several parties take out such rallies,” a commission source said.

Asked if the state poll panel’s decision would hurt Trinamul’s campaign, party secretary-general Partha Chatterjee said intimidation was “never” a part of the ruling party’s strategy.

“We have never used intimidation as our strategy. Our politics and our campaigns are clean,” he said.

Chatterjee, however, did not attempt to conceal his disapproval of the commission’s restriction. “The commission is issuing a new order every day. I will not say anything about this,” he said.

According to Trinamul insiders, the order was “absurd”.

“We would like to know if there is a district magistrate in Bengal who would be able to stop a bike rally from being taken out in the interior areas,” a senior Trinamul leader said.

The commission today said it was yet to hear from the state government on bringing forward polling hours from 7am-5pm to 6am-4pm during Ramazan.

Several political parties and minority outfits had made such a request.

“The government has not yet responded. The timings are, therefore, unlikely to change,” said a commission official.