The Election Commission of India announced the dates for the Lok Sabha polls on Sunday. The elections in the state of West Bengal will begin on April 11 and polling would be held over seven phases, followed by counting of votes for all seats on May 23. The announcement has left some worried, including the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).
TMC, as anticipated, has come out agitated and highly perturbed. The Mamata Banerjee-led party on Sunday said that the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal will cause a lot of inconvenience to the people of the state. However, the BJP welcomed the Election Commission’s decision saying that it reflects the “deteriorating” law and order situation under TMC rule.
Senior TMC leader and state minister Firhad Hakim hit out at the BJP and said, “The BJP had submitted a false data on the law and order situation in the state to the Election Commission (EC) which forced the poll panel to declare a seven-phase poll for the state.”
Hakim further claimed, “This prolonged polling process will cause a lot of inconvenience to the people, especially those from the minority communities as the elections will be held in the month of Ramzan.” The state Congress too urged the EC to reconsider its decision to hold polls in the month of Ramzan. “People belonging to the minority community will suffer a lot during elections as three of the seven phases are falling in the month of Ramzan. The EC should reconsider its decision,” State Congress president Somen Mitra said.
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha welcomed the EC’s decision and said, “This is the first time that Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal will be held in seven phases. This is a clear indication that a state of lawlessness prevails in the state and polls are not being held peacefully. The election will be held with the help of the central armed forces.” He further accused the TMC of indulging in communal politics. “Why is TMC worried over a seven-phase election? By raising the issue of the minorities, the TMC is indulging in communal politics. They are talking about Ramzan month to get Muslim votes. They want to polarise the voters. Last year, the panchayat polls were also held during the Ramzan month. I will appeal to the people not to support this kind of politics,” Sinha added.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose urged the EC to ensure adequate security during the election. “The question is not about the phases, but whether it could be held peacefully. We want the EC to ensure free, fair and peaceful polls,” Bose said.
The seven-phase polls in West Bengal will be a test for all the political parties as they have never experienced a prolonged election schedule before. In 2014, Lok Sabha polls were held in five phases in the state. The Assembly polls in 2016 too were held in five phases. A prolonged election schedule means that all the parties will have to rethink their strategies and prepare for rigorous campaigning across the state for more number of days. This will also pose a challenge to their organisational abilities to sustain the prolonged schedule.
The entire country including the Election Commission is aware of what had happened during the WB Panchayat elections in 2018. The thugs of TMC had unleashed terror to prevent the Opposition candidates from filing nominations. Hundreds of Left and opposition candidates were injured, their identity cards and other papers snatched away. In many places, offices of the Opposition parties were raided by TMC men to snatch away papers and to threaten people. Massive political violence took place in these elections. The Calcutta High Court finally had to intervene and order the State Election Commission to extend the deadline for submission of nominations. The deadline was then extended to April 23. But the TMC had already won many seats by preventing the Opposition candidates from filing nominations.
Meanwhile, Ariz Aftab, the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal said that the Election Commission will take adequate measures to ensure free, fair and peaceful Lok Sabha polls. “The elections will be held in seven phases in West Bengal. We will provide all facilities. We have adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs. We will also reserve additional EVMs in case of malfunctions. We have flying squad, static surveillance team and complaint redressal system. We will deploy adequate number of security forces to hold a peaceful election,” said Aftab.
TMC is disturbed by the fact that they may not continue with the winning streak in West Bengal as the chances of a free and fair Lok Sabha polls are much higher with the seven-phase polling system. A large presence of CAPF can be deployed in each of polling booths due to the wide distribution of polls across the seven phases. This will work as a deterrent for TMC’s blatant hooliganism. The people of West Bengal can rejoice as democracy in the state will be restored.