The run-up to the panchayat elections in May is heating up, with the Opposition accusing TMC of perpetrating violence, and the ruling party claiming that Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi is overstepping his Constitutional bounds by summoning officials over the matter without informing the state government.
The rural polls, scheduled for May 1, 3 and 5, are being seen by all parties as an acid test ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Across the state, 48,606 gram panchayat seats, 9,217 panchayat samity seats and 825 zilla parishad seats will be contested.
Following the Election Commission’s issuance of the poll notification on April 2, there have been reports of clashes between the parties at the grassroots level during filing of nomination papers.
Following this, a BJP delegation met the Governor to call for deployment of central forces. Tripathi on Wednesday summoned the State Election Commissioner A K Singh for an update about pre-poll arrangements and reports of ongoing violence. He also held a meeting with Chief Secretary Malay Kumar De and Home Secretary Atri Bhattacharya during which he enquired about the present law and order situation.
Political experts believe that the violence will escalate further in coming days, with the Trinamool Congress eager to maintain its supremacy and the BJP making concerted efforts to gain a larger presence in the state.
“The panchayat polls are crucial. It is a determinant factor before the general elections (2019). This is because a major chunk of voters are predominantly rural. What is unfortunate is that the State Election Commissioner is expressing helplessness over deployment of paramilitary forces,” said Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College and political science expert.
“I have little doubt that the ruling party is expected to win the rural polls with a thumping majority. But there should be free and fair polls. BJP, on the other hand, is trying to match the ruling party with all its might,” he added.
A similar situation had prevailed during the 2013 panchayat polls, following which the then State Election Commissioner Meera Pande had approached the Supreme Court after the state government denied the commission’s demand for deployment of central forces. The polls were ultimately conducted according to the SEC proposal — in five phases and with central forces.
Meanwhile, the BJP held demonstrations in front of the State Election Commission office in Kolkata on Wednesday, alleging violence and intimidation by TMC workers and appealing for deployment of central forces.
The Congress and the CPM also criticised the TMC over its reluctance to call in central forces.
Congress MP and state Congress president in Bengal, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the Governor, as a “responsible gentleman”, has done his duty to ensure free and fair polls.
“However, Trinamool is so shameless that they have approached the Union home minister to ensure that the Governor cannot deliver his constitutional responsibilities,” he added.
State CPM secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra also alleged that ruling party workers have unleashed violence all over the state.
“We have decided to support any candidate who is contesting against both Trinamool and BJP in seats where Left Front is unable to field its own candidate,” he said.
Meanwhile, throughout Wednesday, there were reports of violence in areas across Bengal over submission of nominations, including in South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Birbhum and North Dinajpur.
The situation at Raigunj in North Dinajpur was reportedly serious, with guns being fired and bombs being hurled.
As per the state election commission’s figures, while the TMC has filed 1,614 nominations so far, the BJP’s number stands at 1,143. CPM and Congress are lagging far behind at 351 and 124, respectively. The number of independent candidates is 200.