Updated: April 13, 2021 7:21:47 am
The Election Commission (EC) Monday imposed a 24-hour campaigning ban on West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee for her “highly insinuating” and “provocative remarks” which the poll body said had “serious potential” to lead to a law and order breakdown in the state. It cited her repeated remarks against Central forces deployed in the state on election duty.
Campaigning for the fifth phase of the elections in West Bengal on April 17 has already been curtailed by a day. On April 10, following the violence in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar where four persons were killed in firing by CISF personnel, the EC had extended the ‘silent period’ from 48 hours to 72 hours for the fifth round.
Reacting to the EC ban order, Banerjee, who was scheduled to address four rallies Tuesday, said she will now stage a sit-in to protest the poll panel decision.
In a Twitter post, Banerjee said: “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.”
The EC order drew sharp reactions from the TMC and even rivals CPM and Congress.
While TMC leader Derek O’Brien tweeted that “EC stands for Extremely Compromised”, Yashwant Sinha, who joined the party recently, said: “We always had a doubt about the impartiality of the EC. But today it has shed whatever pretence it had. Now it is clear that EC is acting at the behest of Modi/Shah and under their direct order. Every institution of democracy is compromised today. What hope do we have?”.
CPM leader Dr Sujan Chakraborty said: “Along with Mamata Banerjee, EC must ban BJP leaders Dilip Ghosh, Rahul Sinha and Sayantan Banerjee for their provocative remarks.”
Senior Congress leader and party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi accused the Election Commission of being selective and partial.
“It is unfortunate that constitutional authorities are selective, partial and unequal in the application of law. Statements much more divisive and provocative have been made by the highest incumbent ruling party members and have gone either unpunished or have been noticed after gross and inexcusable delay. It is time for such constitutional authorities to reclaim their original purpose and identity,” Singhvi told The Indian Express.
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 Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) April 12, 2021
This is the third time the Commission has barred a star campaigner from electioneering this poll season. Earlier, the EC had banned DMK leader A Raja and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma from campaigning for 48 hours in Tamil Nadu and Assam, respectively. Sarma’s penalty, however, was reduced to 24 hours after he tendered an unconditional apology to EC.
In its order against Banerjee, the EC cited her repeated jibes against the central forces questioning their political neutrality, and her appeal to minority voters not to divide their votes between different political parties.
The EC had issued two show-cause notices to her last week over these utterances. The poll body also reiterated its last week’s observation that the Chief Minister’s complaints about voting in the Nandigram Assembly seat were “devoid of substance” and an attempt to “misguide” the voters.
Among the speeches quoted by the poll body was the one at Cooch Behar on April 7 wherein Banerjee allegedly asked women voters to gherao central police personnel if they create “disturbances”.
“Remember that there are several other areas surrounding Cooch Behar which belong to Bangladesh. Those borders must be sealed too so that no outsider can create ruckus here. And if the CAPF creates disturbances, I tell you ladies, a group of you go and restrain (gherao) them while another group will go to cast their votes. Don’t waste your vote. If you engage yourself only in restraining them, they will be happy that you did not cast your vote. This is their plan. It is the plan of BJP,” the order quoted from her purported speech.
In her defence, the Chief Minister had told the Commission that her appeal to both Hindu and minority voters not to split their votes was being misconstrued as an appeal for voting along religious lines, and that it was actually an attempt to maintain communal harmony.
She also told the EC that she had the “highest regard” for the central police forces and that her remark urging voters, especially women voters, to gherao anyone, including the CAPF, who tried to obstruct their right to vote, was meant to encourage them to engage in “peaceful satyagraha against authorities”.
The EC, in its order, said that her replies were unsatisfactory as she had quoted her speeches “selectively” and left out parts that violate the Model Code of Conduct. The poll body concluded that her remarks were “provocative” and “laden with serious potential of breakdown of law and order” and “adversely affecting the election process”. It went on to warn her “sternly” about making such remarks in future and imposed a 24-hour ban on her campaigning.
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