Bengal’s rural poll battle hots up (West Bengal Newsletter)

Kolkata, June 1 (IANS) Even as the tug-of-war between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the West Bengal Election Commission refuses to abate, the battle for next month’s crucial rural polls has intensified.

After a bitter legal battle and court directives, the commission finally notified the first of the three-phase panchayat polls. Candidates in nine districts – set to go to the hustings July 2 – have already started filing their nominations.

The second and third phases will be held July 6 and July 9.

While issuing the notification, State Election Commission chief Mira Pande said that the panel was yet to hear from the state government on the availability of security forces.

With the court mandating adequate security for the polls, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reluctantly climbed down from her earlier stand of using the state’s security forces for the elections.

The volte face came after the state government realised that its own security forces were insufficient and the appeal to other states for for security personnel met with no response.

The Banerjee government, which had all along been adamant to go ahead with the polls sans the central security forces, however, refused to admit that it had blinked on the issue.

“It is not a climb-down. We had to compromise for the sake of conducting the elections,” state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said.

While the Congress had been demanding central forces all along, it did not let go of the opportunity to hit back at Banerjee on her “compromise”.

“Is it that easy that today they will come asking for forces and we will give it tomorrow?” said state Congress leader and union minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

Another area of confrontation between the election panel and the state government now pertains to who will control the police and administration now that the poll process has started. While the State Election Commission issued a notification declaring that all administrative and police officials connected with the polling process were now under its control, the state government disputed it.

State chief secretary Sanjay Mitra has written to the commission questioning its authority to issue the notification.

Meanwhile, the first phase poll nomination process has been marred by widespread violence with the Congress and Left Front pointing fingers at the Trinamool Congress.

State Congress leaders led by state president Pradip Bhattacharya met the governor with their grievances against the Trinamool Congress while the Left Front sought refuge in the Election Commission.

“Despite the presence of the state police, the Trinamool Congress is trying to create trouble at various places,” Bhattacharya said after meeting Governor M.K. Narayanan.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Rabin Deb who met the commission’s chief Pande, accused the Trinamool Congress of using muscle power to prevent its rival candidates from completing the pre-poll formalities.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])

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