Kolkata: Three weeks from now, the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party will face off in West Bengal, as capital Kolkata holds municipal elections after six years.
About 40 lakh voters are eligible to cast their ballots to elect councillors in 144 wards on 19 December, the State Election Commission announced Thursday, with the results expected to be announced two days later on 21 December.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) has been run by the Trinamool since 2010, even before it came to power in the state in 2011. But elections have not been held since 2015, with last year’s scheduled polls being postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The announcement of the Kolkata civic elections came on a day when the Trinamool and the BJP are squaring off in elections to municipal bodies across the state of Tripura. The run-up to these elections to 222 seats have been beset by allegations of rigging, violence and booth capturing, as the Trinamool makes its debut and takes on the ruling BJP. The political battle had also reached the Supreme Court, where the TMC pleaded that the polls be postponed due to the law and order situation.
How KMC ran without elections
Elections to 112 municipalities in West Bengal have been pending for nearly two years due to the Covid pandemic. At an all-party meeting chaired by Mamata Banerjee in March 2020, a decision was taken to indefinitely postpone the civic body polls.
On 6 May 2020, the West Bengal government notified and formed a 14-member board of administrators to run the KMC, with mayor Firhad Hakim as its chairman. This was necessary because the Kolkata civic elections were last held on 8 May 2015, and its five-year term ended on 7 May 2020. The board of administrators got an extension from the Kolkata High Court in July 2020.
CPI(M) leader and former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya told ThePrint that the state government’s decision to appoint a board of administrators was “undemocratic and unconstitutional”.
“For petty political advantage, it kept its political minions at the helm. Now, it has announced elections on 19 December after ensuring its party’s election machinery is in place, leaving the Opposition with no time to prepare,” he alleged.
What’s at stake now?
The KMC polls will be the first since the Trinamool retained power in Bengal with a big majority over the BJP in May 2021.
All eyes are on whom party supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee picks as the mayoral candidate, since the party has adopted a ‘one person, one post’ policy.
On the BJP front, this will be the first test for its new state president Sukanta Majumdar, who was appointed after the assembly election defeat. However, the BJP is battling sporadic infighting and a steady stream of desertions to the Trinamool. Five sitting BJP MLAs, one former Union Minister and several popular leaders and grassroot workers have dumped the party and joined the rival camp. In March 2020, when the BJP had begun preparations for the KMC polls that were later postponed, it had installed boxes at its office in central Kolkata, seeking aspirants to fight under its banner.
The CPI(M) and Congress, meanwhile, are yet to decide if they will continue their alliance and fight the KMC elections together. Their partnership drew a blank in the assembly polls.
BJP’s appeal to HC
The BJP had appealed to the Calcutta High Court seeking simultaneous polls in all the 112 municipalities where they are supposed to be held. The court is set to hear the matter on 29 November.
BJP spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya said at a news conference: “The State EC has been completely politicised in West Bengal. We don’t have faith that the elections will be conducted in a free and fair manner in phases. We will wait till 29 November and are prepared to go to the Supreme Court, if required.”
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.