Elections will be held on April 26 and April 30; no 3-phase affair as announced by SEC

The West Bengal government announced here on Friday that rural polls in 17 districts of the State will be held in two phases on April 26 and April 30, contrary to the recommendations made by the State Election Commission (SEC) that they should be held in three phases.

State’s Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee told journalists at the State Secretariat that polls in 14 districts would be held on April 26. “The elections in the Uttar Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad districts will be held on April 30,” he said.

Police deployment

“There will be deployment of armed police at every polling booth,” Mr. Mukherjee said adding that the government had not specified deployment of any kind of additional forces.

The announcement comes hours after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said during the day that a notification on the panchayat elections would be issued in a day or two. A notification was issued by the State’s Panchayat Department.

The decision to hold the rural polls in two phases sets the stage for a confrontation between the State government and the SEC that has been firm on its stand to hold the rural polls in three phases with the adequate deployment of Central paramilitary forces.

The announcement of the rural polls evoked strong reactions from the political parties in the Opposition.

West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Pradip Bhattacharya has said that the party hopes that the SEC “will reject” the State government’s decision and approach the Courts on the issue.

“The government does not want a free and fair election. It wants to conduct the polls in a manner that would ensure a Trinamool Congress’s victory,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

He was also critical of the decision to hold elections in three districts where the Congress had a strong presence in the second phase stating that it was an attempt to “isolate” these areas and reduce the Congress’s chances.

Rahul Sinha, president of the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said that the party would move the court on the matter and urged the SEC to do the same.