Bengal polls 2021: EC cites Covid surge to indefinitely postpone elections to two seats
The Election Commission on Monday cited the Covid surge to indefinitely postpone the already deferred elections to two Bengal seats, a decision that also makes any by-election unlikely in the near future and hangs a cloud over the timetable of Mamata Banerjee’s re-election to the Assembly.
Elections had earlier been put off to May 16 in the Jangipur and Samserganj Assembly seats following the deaths of the two Sanyukta Morcha candidates there. On Monday, these were further postponed along with an Assembly by-election in Odisha.
A by-election was also due in Khardah, whose Trinamul winner Kajal Sinha had died of Covid before the results were announced. It would have offered Mamata, defeated from Nandigram, an opportunity to be re-elected to the Assembly— which she has to do within six months of taking oath as chief minister if she wants to retain the chair.
Monday’s poll panel statement does not mention Khardah since the by-election had not been notified. But it appears unlikely to be held anytime soon in the light of the three postponements, making it uncertain when Mamata might be able to get elected to the House.
Mamata could not have contested from Jangipur or Samserganj even if the polls were held since only the RSP and the Congress, respectively, are allowed to field fresh candidates. These are the parties whose candidates for these seats had died.
Since the Khardah vote, whenever notified, would be a by-election, nomination papers from all the contestants will be accepted afresh.
Whenever a seat falls vacant, a by-election is mandated within six months under Section 151A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 but with a rider.
This period can be further extended if “the Election Commission in consultation with the central government certifies that it is difficult to hold the by-election within the said period”.
The poll panel’s current urgency about the surging epidemic comes after it allowed blatant flouting of pandemic protocols at campaign rallies during the Bengal polls, and ignored appeals to at least merge the last three of the eight phases to control the damage.
A media release from the commission said on Monday: “Commission after taking all material facts and inputs of CEO (chief election officer) West Bengal and CEO Odisha in consideration and taking note of lockdown/ restrictions under Disaster Management Act, 2005, as issued by NDMA/SDMA has decided to defer the scheduled poll and extend the period of elections in 110-Pipli AC of Odisha and 58-Jangipur & 56-Samserganj assembly constituencies of West Bengal. Fresh notification will be issued after assessing the pandemic situation.”
Last year, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray had sought election to the legislative council after being sworn in as Maharashtra chief minister.
After the polls were postponed because of the pandemic, the state cabinet had asked governor B.S. Koshyari to nominate him to the Upper House, where the seat of a nominated member was vacant. The governor did not act on the recommendation.
Uddhav then wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, following which Koshyari asked the poll panel to notify elections to the vacant legislative council seats.
Campaigning and polling in council elections are held on a much smaller scale than Assembly elections since the electorates are smaller, thus reducing the possibility of widespread infections.
Bengal, however, has no legislative council.