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Poll observer for Bengal

Calcutta, April 16: The Election Commission has decided to send to Bengal former Bihar chief electoral officer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh as the special state observer.

The commission’s move followed a raft of complaints against poll officials and the chief electoral officer of Bengal. The Telegraph had reported on Sunday that the commission was considering a proposal to send such an observer for the first time since 2004.

Assistant Bengal chief electoral officer Amit Roychowdhury said Rakesh, already on his way to the city from Bihar, is expected to assume charge tomorrow.

Sources said that Rakesh would leave for Cooch Behar tomorrow. Four north Bengal constituencies — Darjeeling, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar — will go to polls tomorrow.

“Out of these four constituencies, the chances of electoral malpractice are the highest in Cooch Behar. That’s why the state-level observer is going there,” said a source.

The 1983-batch IAS officer — now the director-general of the Bihar Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development — would enjoy powers nearly equal to that of Bengal chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta.

“Rakesh is an efficient officer who had spearheaded the implementation of the Bihar model of electioneering in the Bihar Assembly polls of 2010,” said a commission official from Delhi this evening.

According to him, Bengal is do far the only state where a special observer has been sent for the Lok Sabha polls this year.

The commission has “little” faith in the impartiality of poll officials and the office of the chief electoral officer in the state, the sources said.

“There are signs of a breakdown in co-ordination between offices of the chief secretary, home secretary, the chief electoral officer and districts administration. The commission needs a powerful nodal officer,” said a source.

The source said that the commission is “displeased” with the way the attacks on election officials in North 24-Parganas, Howrah and Malda took place and were dealt with.

“The commission has also viewed chief secretary Sanjay Mitra’s order for reinstatement of the officials removed from election duty after the poll process as a direct confrontation. Given the situation, the commission wanted to ensure greater command by sending Rakesh,” he said.

Three years ago, Rakesh and five senior IPS officers had extensively toured the 19 Bengal districts.

This time, as the special state observer, he would directly co-ordinate with the Election Commission in Delhi and visit troubled areas.

“This is a clear indication that the commission is not satisfied with the way things are in Bengal. Only in extremely special cases are such officers appointed,” said the government official.

The Opposition welcomed the move and hoped it would help in reducing the ruling party’s influence on the polling process.

“The commission has been trying to act on our complaints. We hope Rakesh would be able to carry out the task entrusted to him,” said CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb.

Senior Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya echoed Deb.

Only once before this, in 2004, was such an observer — another Bihar cadre IAS officer Afzal Amanullah — appointed for Bengal, when the Left was in power. The move had followed similar complaints from the Opposition, which included the now ruling Trinamul Congress, against the state’s election machinery and then chief electoral officer Basudeb Banerjee, now the home secretary.

Amanullah, now secretary to the Union ministry of parliamentary affairs, in his dispatches during and after the 2004 polls, had written about “an institutionalised rape of a democratic process” in Bengal.

“I wish him (Rakesh) success. From what I hear, things haven’t changed much in Bengal despite the change of guard at the helm,” Amanullah said from Delhi.


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