In an unprecedented move, the Election Commission of India on May 15 put a blanket ban on political parties from campaigning activities in the nine parliamentary constituencies of West Bengal in view of the “growing incidents of disruption and violence”, beginning 10 p.m. on May 16.
The decision came a day after violent clashes during a roadshow taken out by BJP chief Amit Shah in Kolkata, following which the party lodged a complaint with the poll panel. Trinamool Congress had also approached the Commission seeking intervention.
Polls in these constituencies are scheduled to be held during the last phase on May 19 and the 48-hour silence period was to kick in on May 17 evening. The order bars campaigning activities till conclusion of the elections on May 19.
Exercising its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, to ensure the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections, the ECI directed that no person would convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election.
The order also states that no one can display to the public through movies and television or propagate any election matter by holding any event, including musical concert, theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting people in connection with the elections.
A ban has also been placed on sale and distribution of liquor or “other substances of a like nature” in hotels, eating joints, shops or any other place, public or private, within the polling areas.
The Commission said the decision was taken based on a report from the Deputy Election Commissioner in-charge of the State.
In the report, the officer said: “During the review with the Observers, it clearly came out that…there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level playing field to all candidates from campaigning and in providing a fearless threat-free environment to the voters.”
The Observers pointed out that, while on the surface everything looks fine, but in their frank interactions with the public, the fear psychosis that is widely prevalent comes out. “They pointed out that utterances of the AITC senior leaders on the lines of ‘Central Forces will leave after the elections while we will remain’ sends a chilling message among the officers as well as voters alike,” said the order signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and the two Election Commissioners.
Additional Director-General of Police relieved
The ECI also received reports from Special Observers, Ajay Nayak and Vivek Dubey, who gave accounts of other incidents of violence during political campaigning on May 14, for which cases were registered.
During investigations, about 100 persons were detained. Of these, 58 persons were arrested in two cases.
“During the last 24 hours, representatives of various political parties have met the Commission and expressed their concerns on the prevailing conditions of law & order…these campaign related violent incidents are creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred in the polling areas which is affecting the overall electoral environment,” said the order.
In a separate order, the Commission relieved the State Additional Director-General of Police (CID) Rajeev Kumar from his post with immediate effect and directed him to report to the Union Home Ministry at 10 a.m. on May 16.
The EC also removed State Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya form his post for interfering in the process of conducting elections. The Chief Secretary was given additional charge and compliance report sought by 10 p.m. on May 15.
Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan said the poll panel expressed deep anguish over the desecration of the bust of 19 century educationalist and reformer Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyay and hoped that the local authorities would identify and take action against the culprits at the earliest.