Calcutta, Oct. 7: S.R. Upadhaya, who resigned as the state election commissioner yesterday, told The Telegraph tonight that he was "unable to bear the pressure tactics" from senior Trinamul leaders who had laid siege to his office on Monday.
"Two senior ministers, (education minister) Partha Chatterjee and (panchayat minister) Subrata Mukherjee, along with party MP Subrata Bakshi and mayor Sovan Chatterjee, were in my office for four long hours on October 5 insisting on a fixed date for the counting of votes. They refused to go by my suggestion that I needed some time to go through the video clippings and other documents to verify the allegations about electoral fraud and violence on poll day in three corporations," Upadhaya said over the phone.
"But what left me shellshocked was their message to party activists after leaving my chamber: that they would keep a watch on how the poll panel acts." (The "message" was conveyed over the mike just outside Upadhaya's office and broadcast on TV too.)
Asked if he perceived any threat, Upadhaya - who was handpicked by Nabanna as the first officer from the state civil services to helm the poll panel - declined comment.
Repeatedly asked if he had quit because of Trinamul's "pressure tactics", he did not give a direct answer. "I want to iterate that no political party should exert pressure on the poll panel chief, whose job is to act impartially," he said.
"Following the pressure, I had to make an announcement at a press conference at 9pm. That the counting would take place on October 9, while repolling in certain booths will take place on October 8."
Minister Mukherjee dismissed the allegation tonight, calling it a "blatant lie". "We did not cross any limit of decency. We are not schoolchildren. Yes, we made our demands clear. But if somebody resigns or gets a new post, the party cannot be held responsible," the minister said.
Earlier in the evening, at the venue of a sit-in outside the commission office on Rawdon Street, Bakshi and mayor Chatterjee had echoed Mukherjee in informal chats with reporters. Neither could be reached for comment after Upadhaya's statements.
Minister Chatterjee was unavailable on phone tonight. But in response to a similar but unattributed allegation yesterday, the minister had said: "The BJP or the CPM can lay siege and we can't? There was no pressure at all from us. Nor any misbehaviour."
Upadhaya, asked why he did not try to exert his authority as the poll panel chief like his predecessor Mira Pande, said his "familiarity" with the four leaders got in the way.
"I didn't realise how to react at that juncture as I am quite familiar with all of them. I became close to each of them during the Singur agitation. They used to drop in at the Raj Bhavan regularly to attend meetings, chaired by the then governor (Gopalkrishna Gandhi)," said Upadhaya, who had retired as a special secretary to the governor.
Reacting to his resignation, Pande said today that she found the entire episode "undesirable and unfortunate". "What has happened should not have happened," said the retired commissioner.
A day after quitting his post, Upadhaya stayed put in his Raj Bhavan quarters, spending time with his wife and only daughter.
"My wife is posted in Central Excise and Customs as a superintendent, while my daughter is a PhD student in Bose Institute, Salt Lake. It's a pleasure, being able to spend time with them," he said when this newspaper reached him through an extension of the Raj Bhavan PBX (private branch exchange that transfers calls) after innumerable calls to his cellphone went unanswered. He said he was not accepting calls on his mobile phone as he was "very disturbed".
Housekeeping staff said the doors of his quarters remained locked from inside through the day and neither he nor anybody from his family was seen going in or out of the premises today. Upadhaya later said he was trying to avoid newspersons.
Asked if would go to his Chandernagore home in Hooghly soon, he said he did not plan on leaving the city within the next few days.
After passing out from the Birbhum Zilla School in Suri in 1970, Upadhaya completed his graduation with honours in physics from St. Xavier's College, Calcutta, in 1973. Before he joined the Raj Bhavan staff in 2001, he was the sub-divisional officer, Bolpur. He had also served long stints as block development officer and deputy magistrate.
"But in my long years of service, I had never experienced an ordeal like the one I had to endure on Monday. It has left me saddened and stunned," he said.