State poll panel defers civic polls by 3 weeks
The Bengal election commission on Saturday deferred elections to four civic bodies, earlier scheduled on January 22, by three weeks to February 12 after Calcutta High Court asked the poll panel to independently decide if the process could be pushed back by four to six weeks in view of the pandemic.
Sources in the panel said the state government was consulted multiple times and after receiving a nod from Nabanna, the new schedule for the polls to the Bidhannagar, Asansol, Siliguri and Chandernagore municipal corporations was announced.
Although it hasn’t notified the date of counting of polls yet, in all probability it will be done on February 15, the sources said.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose has written to the commission requesting it to hold counting for the polls to the four civic bodies and those that will be held on February 27 on the same day.
The sources said that though the court had asked the commission to decide independently on rescheduling the polls, it was practically not possible to fix a date for polls without holding discussions with the administration. “Law and order has to be handled by the state government. It is a necessity that the administration is comfortable with the poll date,” a source said.
A source in the government said they were not against rescheduling the polls since the Covid third wave had not eased yet.
“But the state cannot propose to defer elections once the poll panel notifies the dates. Once the commission proposed that the elections be pushed back, the government assured it that all law-and-order arrangements would be made on the revised date,” the source said.
The notification issued by the state poll panel on Saturday said the decision had been taken in compliance with the court’s order and “in consideration of the prevalent Covid-19 pandemic situation”.
Trinamul national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee welcomed the poll panel’s decision. “I wholeheartedly thank Hon’ble High Court & SEC for postponing polls by 3 weeks in the state,” he tweeted.
“Let us work UNITEDLY to ensure that the positivity rate in Bengal is BROUGHT DOWN to LESS THAN 3% IN THE NEXT 3 WEEKS. The need of the hour is to strengthen the fight against #COVID,” the MP added.
Earlier, Abhishek had said it was his “personal opinion” that all religious and political gatherings, including elections, must be banned for two months in view of the pandemic situation.
The statement came at a time when the poll panel had informed the court through an affidavit that it was in favour of going ahead with the scheduled date of January 22.
Abhishek’s “personal opinion” appears to have created a rift of sorts in Trinamul with Serampore MP Kalyan Banerjee publicly criticising the stand. Kalyan has faced criticism from many in the party.
Trinamul sources said the poll panel had been informed about the party being amenable to postpone the elections in the wake of the high court’s order on Friday.
Opposition parties claimed the commission deferred the polls only because the ruling party had given the go-ahead.
“The poll panel has yet again made it clear that it has no interest in the autonomy the Constitution gives it. Since Trinamul has agreed to defer the polls, the commission obliged. We have been asking the poll panel to hold an all-party meeting and defer the elections if necessary for a long time. It remained silent but acted only when Trinamul gave its consent,” CPM leader and former MLA Sujan Chakraborty said.
Bengal BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar claimed his party had demanded that the civic polls be put off for some time amidst the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Although he expressed his gratitude towards the commission for pushing back the elections, he pointed out that the court had suggested that the panel defer the process by four weeks, not three.