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Nabanna match goes down to wire

Calcutta, April 9: Some of the senior-most officers in Bengal almost held their collective breath for over 16 hours — from 5.30 last evening to 9.35 this morning.

Such a task is physiologically impossible but its figurative equivalent unfolded yesterday at Nabanna around 5.30pm and spilled over to the next morning as officials scrambled to defuse the stand-off with the Election Commission.

Senior officials at Nabanna — some of them put their cellphones on speaker mode so that they could speak simultaneously — tried to convince chief minister Mamata Banerjee to comply with the EC’s order to transfer eight officers and send a report to the panel before the deadline ended.

The compliance report on the transfers had to be sent by 10am on Wednesday.

“The EC’s letter (ordering the transfers) reached the chief secretary’s office around 5.30 last evening. Then a flurry of activity began on Nabanna’s 13th and 14th floors, where the offices of the chief minister and the chief secretary are located. The government sent the compliance report at 9.35am today,” an official said.

At 6.30 last evening, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra sent a file to the chief minister’s office mentioning that the government should accept the poll panel’s order. The EC had refused to accept the government’s plea for a review by then.

“After the chief secretary left, CMO officials contacted (Trinamul MP) Mukul Roy and urged him to take the initiative to persuade the chief minister to accept the directive,” a senior official said, requesting anonymity.

Mamata had declared that she would not transfer the officers and was sticking to her stance then. Senior Trinamul leaders and the CMO officials spoke to the chief minister several times till 7.30pm. At least three CMO officials, including Mamata’s secretary Gautam Sanyal, kept their phones on speaker mode.

“We tried to convince her that if the government refused to comply with the EC’s order, we could be in trouble. We told her it would send the wrong signal if the elections were postponed. We said it would be disastrous if the EC transferred top officials such as the chief secretary,” the official said.

The officials suggested to the chief minister that she transfer the eight officers for the time being and reinstate them after the poll process ended. “Much to our relief, she accepted the suggestion,” the official said. “We hurriedly made arrangements for a news conference to be addressed by the chief minister in Durgapur,” the official added.

After Mamata’s media conference, where she announced that the government would accept the order but would lodge a protest with the commission, ended around 9pm, the officials of the CMO and the home, personnel and administrative reforms departments left for the day.

The chief secretary called up top officials this morning and told them to reach Nabanna by 9am, an hour before their usual reporting time.

The transfer orders were typed and signed by the secretaries concerned in the chief secretary’s office. They were faxed to the districts, the EC office in Delhi and the Bengal chief electoral officer’s office.