New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, the Election Commission has cancelled all campaigning for the seventh and final phase of polls in nine constituencies of West Bengal after 10 pm Thursday. Campaigning was to end at 5 pm Friday.
The EC’s decision comes in the wake of clashes and violence between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP throughout the elections, which culminated in ugly brawls Tuesday when black flags were shown at Presidency University and Calcutta University during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow.
It was during this violence that a statue of Bengali icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was vandalised by a mob, something that the EC expressed “deep anguish” about.
“We didn’t want to be seen as abruptly disrupting campaign at its peak. Besides, it gives all political parties an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful campaigning and polling,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.
The 10 pm deadline was in keeping with Supreme Court orders which do not permit the use of loudspeakers beyond that time.
What EC said
“No person shall (a) convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election; or (b) display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus; or (c) propagate any election matter to the public by holding or arranging the holding of, any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting the members of the public thereto, in connection with these elections,” the EC’s Wednesday order said.
Further, the poll body said “no spirituous, fermented or intoxicating liquors or other substances of a like nature shall be sold, given or distributed at a hotel, eating house, tavern, shop or any other place, public or private, within polling areas in nine parliamentary constituencies”.
While this is probably the first time that the EC has taken such a decision, it would not be the last time in cases of “repetition of lawlessness and violence which vitiate the conduct of polls in a peaceful and orderly manner”, it warned.
On Vidyasagar, the EC said: “Besides his many other achievements as a philosopher, academic educator, writer and philanthropist, he worked all his life in the cause of widow remarriage, which was unthought and unheard of in the ultra-conservative society of those days. It is hoped that the vandals are traced by the state administration.”
Why EC took this decision
A report submitted by the deputy election commissioner in-charge of West Bengal blamed the Bengal administration for not maintaining a level-playing field.
“It clearly came out that while logistic arrangements, including training of polling officials etc. are mostly on track as per ECI requirements, there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level playing field to all candidates,” the report stated.
After discussions with the public, it became clear to the observers that a fear psychosis was “widely prevalent”.
“They pointed out that utterances of the AITC (Trinamool’s) senior leaders on the lines of ‘central forces will leave after the elections while we will remain’, (which) sends a chilling message among the officers as well as voters alike,” it said.
At a press conference Wednesday, BJP president Shah had questioned the EC’s inaction in the matter, and called the poll body a “mute spectator”.
“Attempts at election rigging are happening in West Bengal but the Election Commission has remained a mute spectator. It should intervene,” Shah had said.
What was planned for Friday
Sources in the EC said they did not want to put an end to the campaigning “abruptly” as that would be against the spirit of democracy, and would not give the political parties a fair chance to carry out last-minute campaigning.
The Trinamool Congress has scheduled two rallies of Chief Minister and party supremo Mamata Banerjee Thursday, while party strategists were working on organising two more rallies Friday. The Friday rally schedule was not finalised by the time the EC issued its order.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to address two rallies in the state Thursday. Modi’s schedule had no listed engagements in West Bengal Friday.
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