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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Fighting shy of taking on TMC on Bengal streets, BJP reels from SC’s Contai order

The saffron party has alleged rigging in most of the polls held in the state since it became the principal Opposition in the wake of the March-April 2021 Assembly polls.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata |
Updated: May 11, 2022 11:40:42 am
A voter showing ink mark after casting vote. (Express file photo by Partha Paul)

In a setback for the BJP in West Bengal, the Supreme Court has stayed the Calcutta High Court’s order directing the state election panel to send the CCTV footage of the Contai municipal polls for a forensic audit to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL).

The order put the BJP on the back foot at a time when the party has been making attempts to revive itself in Bengal. The saffron party has alleged rigging in most of the polls held in the state since it became the principal Opposition in the wake of the March-April 2021 Assembly polls.

Soumendu Adhikari, ex-chairman of East Midnapore district’s Contai municipality, had filed a petition before the high court, alleging booth capturing, forged voting, and violence during the civic body’s February 27 polls. While seeking fresh polls after deployment of central forces, he pleaded for a forensic audit of the polls’s CCTV footage. Following in the footsteps of his elder brother Suvendu Adhikari, current Leader of Opposition, Soumendu had joined the BJP after quitting the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in January last year.

On April 26, the high court directed the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) to send the Contai polls’ CCTV footage to the CFSL, Delhi, directing that the latter will determine if booth capturing, EVM tampering, forged voting, or violence had taken place during the polls.

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The WBSEC moved the apex court against the high court’s order. Hearing the matter, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant on Monday stayed the high court’s order and issued notice to Adhikari and others for their response. The bench said, “Any post-electoral intervention has to be dealt with in accordance with the process known to the law, otherwise this will set a dangerous precedent across the political spectrum. This will happen across the country and that too on a PIL. As a constitutional court, we are not concerned only about the Contai elections”.

The BJP has been routed in a series of civic body elections and bypolls held in the state since the Assembly polls. The party has sought to bank mainly on judiciary and central agencies to corner the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government rather than taking it on politically. The infighting and dissension gripping the state BJP intensified after Balurghat MP Sukanta Majumdar took over as its president in September last year.

This was also reflected during the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent visit to Bengal when making his intervention he put out a message of unity to the state leaders, whom he asked to fight the battle against the TMC government politically and not depend on the Centre’s helping hand. He also ruled out imposition of President’s rule in Bengal.

Shah’s message came in the backdrop of the TMC government finding itself in a spot after the high court ordered the CBI probes in a number of cases.

In August last year, the high court, hearing a BJP petition, ordered a CBI inquiry into the incidents of killings and violence that rocked the state following the Assembly poll results.

Lat month, the high court directed the CBI to investigate the Bhadu Sheikh murder case along with the Bogtui house-burning and killings.

After similar court orders, the CBI is now investigating a state-level selection test recruitment scam, an SSC recruitment scam, the murders of Congress councillor Tapan Kandu and an eyewitness in the case, and the rape and death of a minor in Nadia district.

These orders, which put the Banerjee government on the defensive, were used by the BJP to target it over the state’s “abysmal” law and order situation, with the party’s critics pointing out that instead of hitting the roads on various issues it has been solely depending on adverse court orders to take on the TMC.

Bengal BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya, however, said: “The Supreme Court has stayed the order and not disposed off the petition, which is still there. The petitioner and our party are sticking to our point that not a single election under the state election commission was free and fair. There was rampant rigging and electoral malpractices. Only the examination of CCTV footage will bring out the truth. The Supreme Court has stayed the high court order. Now our party and the petitioner will take legal opinions for the next course of action.”

Welcoming the apex court’s order, TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said: “Despite losing the election, the BJP is not accepting the people’s mandate. It is trying to create complications through the judiciary. Now they have been pulled up by the court. This is a clear indication that the saffron camp is desperate to hide its failure by raising a hue and cry. Today they have been exposed.”

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