ECI curtails campaign time by a day for last phase of Bengal election

Published : May 16, 2019 17:41 IST

In a dramatic turn of events in West Bengal just ahead of the seventh and final phase of the Lok Sabha election in which nine constituencies vote on May 19, the Election Commission of India, for the first time in its history, invoked Article 324 of the Constitution and curtailed campaigning activities of political parties to 10 p.m. on May 16 instead of 6 p.m. on May 17. According to the ECI, this was done “with a view to ensure free, fair, transparent, non-violent, ethical elections”.

The ECI also stated that State Home secretary Atri Bhattacharya was “relieved from his current charge… for having interfered in the process of conducting polls…”. It also relieved ADG CID Rajiv Kumar of his charge and asked him to report to the Union Home Ministry. “This is probably the first time that the ECI has invoked Article 324 in this manner, but it may not be the last in cases of lawlessness and violence which vitiate the conduct of polls in a peaceful and orderly manner,” said the ECI while announcing its decision on May 15.

The ECI’s order came the day after the streets of Kolkata had turned into a battle zone between activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Trinamool Congress. The violence had erupted during BJP president Amit Shah’s road show in north Kolkata. The first round of violence took place outside Calcutta University, followed by a clash at Vidyasagar College. Each party claimed that the other had first precipitated the situation by hurling projectiles. In the ensuing violence, a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar installed inside Vidyasagar College campus was vandalised allegedly by BJP supporters.

The focus of the controversy quickly shifted to the broken statue, with the Trinamool trying to make the most of it politically by labelling it an insult to one of Bengal’s greatest icons and an insult to Bengali culture itself. The BJP, in turn, pointed its finger at the Trinamool, claiming that the college gates were locked and BJP activists could not get inside. “This was the handiwork of the Trinamool,” Amit Shah said.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee condemned the violence and placed the blame squarely on the BJP. “They brought in goondas wearing saffron from outside. Never has Bengal seen such violence,” she said. A livid Mamata also came down heavily on the Election Commission’s orders, saying, “This is not the direction of the E.C., but the direction of Modi and Amit Shah.”

She accused the ECI of playing a partisan role. “Amit Shah caused the violence. He organised the attack and destroyed the bust of the Vidyasagar… but instead of taking action against Amit Shah, those who are in the wrong are being rewarded,” she said. She exhorted the people of the State to stage protest marches and called for  unity of the opposition on this issue.

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