West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s battle with the Election Commission of India (ECI) intensified after the poll panel on Monday banned her from campaigning for 24 hours, meaning she would not be able to campaign till 8pm on Tuesday. This would result in the cancellation of three pre-scheduled rallies.
Responding to the decision, the Trinamool Congress supremo decided to up the ante on the ECI, which she and her party have often accused of working in the interest of the Centre’s ruling party, the BJP, her biggest challenger in the state elections.
The ban came after the ECI found her statement from a rally urging the minorities to vote unitedly as violating the model code of conduct (MCC). Mamata Banerjee had earlier dubbed the MCC as “Modi code of conduct”.
Incidentally, the ECI’s notice to Mamata Banerjee asking her to explain her statement had come a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that had he made a similar statement the ECI would have been flooded with complaints. On Monday, the ECI wrote that Mamata’s explanations were not satisfactory.
Soon after the ECI’s decision was communicated, Mamata announced that she would be sitting in a dharna on Tuesday.
“To protest against the undemocratic and unconstitutional decision of the Election Commission of India, I will sit on dharna tomorrow at Gandhi Murti, Kolkata from 12 noon,” Mamata tweeted.
Explaining Mamata’s stance, TMC Rajya Sabha member and national spokesperson Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said, “EC is undoubtedly a constitutional authority. It has powers under the Constitution to hold and superintendent Assembly and Parliamentary elections, etc. But the powers conferred by the Constitution are to be exercised on the basis of constitutional mandates of equity, justice and fair play and also for common good. If a constitutional authority fails to respect constitutional tenets and acts on the dictates of the ruling party at the Centre, the fate and future of the Indian Republic shall be at stake.”
The tussle between Mamata and the ECI has been going on since the poll panel in February announced an eight-phase election. The TMC chief had alleged that the schedule had been stretched out to help senior BJP leaders schedule their Bengal campaign amid elections in four other states.
The Bengal election started on March 29 and will end on April 29, whereas all other elections were concluding by April 6, leaving West Bengal the lone state where elections will be fought between April 7 and 29.
Recently, the tension between the two increased as Mamata kept pressing charges of impartial behaviour by the central paramilitary forces, which work under the home ministry’s jurisdictions, and further escalated after four persons, reported TMC supporters, died of firing by central forces outside a polling booth on April 10 in Cooch Behar district.
Mamata had, soon after the incident, announced that she would be visiting the families the very next day, soon after which the ECI had issued a notice barring the entry of any politician to the district of Cooch Behar for the next three days. Mamata had then spoken to the families over the phone in front of TV cameras and said that she would visit them on the fourth day.
Senior BJP leaders of the party’s Bengal unit did not want to comment, saying that it was for the ECI to see if a dharna protesting an ECI ban on the campaign was no violation of the order itself.
“A dharna is also a campaign,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to speak on record until knowing the views of the party’s central leaders.
The party was mulling approaching the commission asking this question, the leader said, adding, “But the final decision is yet to be taken.”
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