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Bengal panchayat polls tomorrow, attacks on SEC continue

Calcutta, July 10 (PTI): The first phase of the crucial panchayat polls in West Bengal will begin on Wednesday even as the ruling Trinamul Congress kept up its attack against the State Election Commission.

Criticising the state government for 'dilly-dallying', the Supreme Court had on July two refused to reschedule the dates of the polls which are to be conducted in five phases beginning from July 11 as per its direction.

In the first phase, polling will be held in Bankura, West Midnapur and Purulia districts in the former Maoist stronghold of Junglemahal.

Of the total 58,865 seats going to polls, 6,274 have been won uncontested, a majority by the Trinamul Congress.

In all 1.7 lakh candidates are in fray in over 17 districts.

Most panchayats and zilla parishads are now under control of the Left Front.

The TMC, the ruling party, and opposition Congress have failed to reach an understanding over seats and the CPI(M)-led Left Front, which is still smarting from the humiliating defeat in the assembly polls, is looking to cash in on it.

Trinamul Congress leaders claim that the party is confident about continuing its winning streak since the assembly polls in 2011 and prove that the Saradha chitfund scandal, Kamduni rape and murder and a string of other incidents will not have a bearing on the poll results.

The Congress is keen to prove that it can play a decisive role in the state and that it has not been overshadowed by Mamata Banerjee's image after it quit the TMC government.

“TMC has been continuously saying that the victory in West Bengal (in the assembly polls) is to their credit. But it is not only because of them; the fact that the Congress played a pivotal role will be proved through these elections,” WBPCC chief Pradip Bhattacharjee told PTI.

Bhattacherjee said his party has put up candidates in 30,000 seats.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose alleged intimidation by the Trinamul Congress and claimed that party-men could not file nominations in 6000-odd seats.

TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, however, dismissed the charges.

“The allegation is baseless. CPI(M) is afraid as they are sure to be defeated in the elections.”

The apex court order had come after the tussle between the Mamata Banerjee government and SEC hit a blind alley with both sides refusing to budge on security. While the government insisted on the state armed police, the SEC demanded central forces for the polls.

The chief minister had attacked State Election Commissioner Mira Pande without naming her. She had also accused the State Election Commission of taking unilateral and whimsical decisions without consulting the government.        Banerjee had also spoken of a “people's revenge through democratic means” against the SEC.

The Trinamul Congress supremo is against the polls being held during the holy month of Ramzan and in the middle of the monsoon.

“The polls are being held during Ramzan. Had it been held during Durga Puja, would we have liked it? Ramzan is equally important for Muslims. They will be inconvenienced in casting their votes,” she had stated.

She is also annoyed that that the the third phase of the polling on July 19 has been fixed on a Friday, a 'Jummabar'.

Neither is she happy about the SEC's announcement of the counting date which she claims will clash with the government passing departmental budgets in the assembly.

The State Election Commissioner has not reacted to the chief minister's comments, but has asked for CDs of her speeches.

Banerjee has also blamed the opposition CPI(M), Congress, BJP for the delay in elections which she earlier wanted to be held in winter or in February, March or April.

Opposition leaders have termed the Chief Minister's attack on SEC as undemocratic.

“She is continuously abusing the State Election Commissioner which is not only unethical, but also unconstitutional,” the WBPCC president said.

A Supreme Court bench of justices A K Patnayak and Ranjan Gogoi, which had on June 28 fixed the polls for July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25, had on July two turned down the plea of the state government and some NGOs seeking to reschedule the dates to keep the election process before or after Ramzan.

The bench had said that it respects the sentiments of Muslim community but constitutional provision, for holding the elections before tenure of panchayat came to an end, cannot be bypassed.


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