Poll season triggers court battle as Trinamool faces major test

Kolkata, May 18 (IANS) It’s poll time again in West Bengal – and the judiciary is playing a vital role in making it happen.

Facing its first major test since its massive electoral triumph in the assembly polls two years back, the Trinamool Congress regime has faced some tough times in court with regard to the panchayat polls and the long overdue by-election to a Kolkata Municipal Corporation ward.

In contrast, the Howrah Lok Sabha by-poll, scheduled for June 2, has so far had a smooth ride, sans any judicial scrutiny, but the opposition claims that the going would be bumpy for the Trinamool in the wake of the Saradha chit fund scam and the ruling party’s divorce from the Congress.

With the Trinamool and the Congress snapping ties at the central and state levels, the two parties have put up candidates for the seat. While the Trinamool has nominated former international footballer Prasun Banerjee, advocate Sanatan Mukherjee is contesting on the Congress ticket, while the Left Front has nominated CPI-M’s Srideep Bhattacharya.

The election to the constituency was necessitated by the death of Trinamool parliamentarian Ambica Banerjee April 25.

Banerjee had wrested the seat from the CPI-M in 2009 by a margin of over 37,000 votes, with the Congress not putting up any candidate and the BJP nominee garnering around the same number of votes that made the difference between the winner and the runner up.

However, in an interesting turn of events, the BJP first nominated its former state president Asim Kumar Ghosh as candidate but did a volte face days later to announce it would not be in the fray.

While BJP state chief Rahul Sinha claimed that the decision was taken to focus on the coming panchayat polls as it did not have much strength in Howrah, political observers have been linking it to the party’s bid to cosy up to the Trinamool as part of its plans to broadbase the National Democratic Alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.

The opposition CPI-M is trying to make a big issue out of the BJP’s decision, to corner the Trinamool in a constituency with a sizeable number of muslim voters.

“Mamata Banerjee has said she does not want the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to return to power at the centre. She has predicted it will be defeated. She has also said Trinamool will play a big role in the next general elections. And now her former ally BJP withdraws its candidate from Howrah. The link is clear,” said CPI-M state secretariat member Gautam Deb.

The CPI-M feels with lot of poor people in the villages and small towns under the constituency living under the fear of losing their hard earned money which they had deposited with the Saradha group which has now gone bust, the tide could be against the Trinamool.

However, Trinamool is confident of a cakewalk win.

“The people are with us. We have no doubt that we will win by a massive margin,” said Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy.

While campaigning is on in full swing in Howrah, the deadlock between the Mamata regime and the State Election Commission is yet to be resolved even after the state government issued notification proposing three-phase Panchayat polls July 2, July 6 and July 10.

The SEC has indicated its reservations on the proposed schedule with regard to holding of polls in as many as nine districts, including three affected by Maoist violence, in the first phase, and the opposition parties’ opposition to the third leg clashing with the Rath Yatra festival. It was also pointed out at an all-party meeting Friday that the dates be changed in view of the Ramzan month beginning July 11.

The lead up to the rural polls was marred by constant friction between the state government and the SEC as both claimed primacy in announcing the schedule.

The Calcutta High Court also stepped in to direct the state government to hold by-polls to Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s ward number one – lying vacant since Dec, 2011 after the death of the sitting councilor – by Sept 30.

The State Election Commission had alleged before the court that despite several reminders to hold the polls the Bengal government remained silent.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at [email protected])

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