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Push-back hint on SMC election

- Civic administrator route ahead

Siliguri, May 27: A Trinamul leader today said the party was not in favour of contesting the Siliguri Municipal Corporation elections before November, and it could be pushed back to March-April next year, depending on when polls are held in 17 other civic bodies.

Asked the reason for such delay, the Trinamul leader, who did not want to be named, said if elections are held soon — the SMC polls are scheduled for September — it would delay development work that had been stalled because of the model code of conduct being in force during the Lok Sabha elections.

“Now if the civic polls are held, it would further delay development,” the senior Trinamul leader based in Siliguri said.

However, Trinamul insiders pointed to the good show by the BJP in 33 wards of Siliguri town of the total 47 SMC wards. The other 14 wards are in the Dabgram Phulbari Assembly segment.

In the 33 wards that constitute Siliguri, the BJP got a cumulative lead of 7,526 votes.

That the BJP could do well was clear early in the elections as Siliguri has nearly an 80,000-strong Hindi-speaking trader population whose vote was expected to go to Narendra Modi. The BJP won the Darjeeling seat, of which Siliguri is a part, with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s support.

The numbers are not lost on the state government, which Opposition parties have accused of dragging its feet on civic elections.

According to Nabanna sources, the state government did not want to hold the civic polls “anytime soon” and was buying time to allow Trinamul recover ground in areas where the BJP has done well.

The elections to the 17 civic bodies have to be conducted by June 28 and the state should have begun work on the poll process in early January.

The BJP has got substantial leads in Asansol, Kulti, Islampur and Siliguri.

If the elections are not held on time, the 17 civic bodies would have to be run by government-appointed administrators. As of now, the SMC seems to be moving in the direction of being run by an administrator.

The state municipal affairs department is expected to soon send a letter to the SMC commissioner to start the process of electing a new mayor. Congress mayor Gangotri Datta resigned on May 20, and the board was dissolved the same day.

Asked whether his party would put up a candidate for the election of mayor, a Trinamul councillor said: “First of all, we lack the necessary numbers. Second, there is no point of running the board for a few months. Even if we put in our best effort, we won’t entirely succeed in overcoming the lapses of the past board. If we join the board, both the Congress and Left will get a chance to raise issues against us.”

Left and Congress leaders, when asked about fielding a mayoral candidate, said they wanted the civic polls to be held on time. “We apprehend the Trinamul government wants to delay the polls. Our demand is that the polls should be held on time as the civic body is running without any elected board,” a Congress source said.

A government source said that if the post of mayor falls vacant in the middle of a board’s tenure, “the civic body should take steps to elect the new mayor”. “The municipal affairs department should instruct the commissioner to take steps for mayoral election.”

The commissioner would announce dates for filing of nominations for the post of mayor — all councillors are eligible — and the date for election. It is the councillors who vote to elect the mayor, who in turn selects the deputy mayor and the MMICs.

Leaders of all three parties have mentioned at different times that they are not interested in taking charge of the board when barely four months of its tenure remains.

If no party puts up a candidate for mayor, “the state will have to act and take steps to remove the difficulty in the functioning of the civic body. In such a situation, deputing an administrator, at least for a period of six months, is a suitable option,” the government source said.

North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb said: “As far as we know, the matter (about the mayoral election) has been referred to municipal affairs department. It is for the department to act now…. We are concerned about civic services being provided to citizens and would try to ensure that there is no disruption in that.” Asked if Trinamul would want to run the board, he said the party would sit and decide that later.