Kolkata: West Bengal is looking at a constitutional crisis as ruling Trinamool Congress and Opposition parties spar over when to hold two sets of elections in the state — seven assembly bypolls and a round of civic elections that were supposed to be held last year.
The Trinamool is seeking to put pressure on the Election Commission (EC) of India to conduct the bypolls to seven assembly constituencies by November.
The bypolls are important for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is currently not an elected member of the legislature. She has to win an election within six months of assuming office — according to Article 164(4) of the Constitution — in order to remain in the chief minister’s chair.
Mamata had lost to BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari by 1,900 votes in Nandigram in this year’s assembly elections. The state elections were held in March and April, and the results announced on 2 May.
The Opposition, meanwhile, has pointed out that the state election commission has failed to hold civic polls to 106 municipalities and six municipal corporations, including Kolkata, for over a year. Leaders said Mamata Banerjee has used “Covid as an excuse” to postpone civic body elections, when she was actually “unsure of winning”.
The Opposition has accused the Mamata government of “illegally” running these municipalities by appointing political administrators, and not government officials, as is required by law. The political men running these bodies are mostly “outgoing mayors and chairmen overstaying in office”, they have said.
The Trinamool, however, is adamant that it will not conduct the civic polls unless the EC gives a date for the bypolls — a sentiment that has been publicly stated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Party MP and Rajya Sabha chief whip Sukhendu Sekhar Roy told ThePrint: “Holding bypolls on time is a constitutional obligation of the Election Commission. We have repeatedly requested it to conduct the polls now as Covid cases are low and under control. The seven assembly seats of Bhawanipore, Khardah, Gosaba, Shantipur, Dinhata, Jangipur and Samsergunj are spread across six districts and far from each other. There should not be a problem.” Roy said party leaders met the full bench of the EC last month.
Another leader said the party would take legal action if its “democratic appeal” fails with the EC.
The Trinamool claims the BJP-led government at the Centre is deliberately delaying the bypolls to create a “constitutional crisis” in the state.
The central election body, it is learnt, has sought a report on the Covid situation in the six districts where bypolls are due.
‘Den of corruption’
Congress MP and state party chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the civic bodies were being run by “unelected Trinamool men… which is legally untenable”. “These institutions have become a den of corruption. Services too have become pathetic,” Chowdhury said.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said the ruling party was “shouting for bypolls” because its leader lost. “But nobody has paid any heed to our request that civic polls be held. Mamata Banerjee was insecure of winning and Covid became a reason. But now she doesn’t care about the Covid crisis because she needs to get elected.”
A senior minister in Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet said, “The electoral rolls can be taken into consideration for civic polls once the bypoll is over. It will be easier for the state to hold municipality polls after the bypolls.”