The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Polls in five phases run into CPM fury
- Vote to stretch from April 17 to May 8

Calcutta/New Delhi, March 1: The Election Commission put Bengal in the same bracket as Bihar by announcing a five-phase poll schedule starting April 17, drawing sharp comments from the ruling CPM. Opposition parties were happy with the staggered Assembly polls ' a first for Bengal.

Chief election commissioner B.B. Tandon said: “Our decision to hold polls there in five phases is based on the ground realities in Bengal.”

Only once in the past have Assembly polls in Bengal been held over more than a day when in 1996 they took place simultaneously with Lok Sabha elections which were in two phases.

“The five-phase poll schedule was totally unwarranted. We are astonished. This is an unprecedented step,” said state CPM secretary Anil Biswas.

“This has never happened in Bengal. This is unprecedented,” state home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said.

The four other dates for the polls are April 22, April 27, May 3 and May 8, spread over three weeks from the first day of voting. Counting of ballots will begin on May 11.

Tandon did not explain what he meant by “ground realities” but said the commission wanted area domination. The Centre is expected to send 600 to 650 companies of paramilitary forces for “area domination”.

Opposition parties have repeatedly alleged that the CPM’s strong-arm tactics ' described as “rigging” ' accompanied by administrative collusion have influenced poll outcomes. Tandon hinted at that when he said: “We do not only want peaceful, but also free and fair elections.”

“The commission has done what it has thought right, based on the information with it,” Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee said, welcoming the five-phase polls.

By clubbing polling in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore on one day on April 17, the commission has clearly decided to tackle districts with the Maoist threat together.

The commission has sliced the state up into different zones, assigning separate polling days to them. Calcutta votes in the third phase on April 27.

The CPM state secretary was also unhappy that Tamil Nadu, with the same population and the same number of seats as Bengal, would have a one-day poll. “This defies reason. I am told the EC’s explanation is that all parties there had preferred a one-day poll. Then why wasn’t the CPM’s opinion sought for the Bengal polls'” he asked.

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