In conflict with Election Commission, State maintains armed police at poll booths will be ample security

The law and order situation in West Bengal has not reached a point that warrants the holding of the upcoming rural polls in 17 districts in more than two phases, the State’s Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee said here on Sunday even as his government inched closer to a confrontation with the State Election Commission, which had proposed a three-phase election.

The commission is expected to meet on Monday to work out a response to the State government’s unilateral decision that the polls should be held in two phases. It may ask the State to reconsider its decision; there is also the possibility that it will approach Governor M.K. Narayanan and seeking his intervention to facilitate a consensus.

Anyone is free to call on the Governor, said Mr. Mukherjee, in what could be construed as a further dig at the election authorities.

The State government had announced two days ago that the polls will be held on April 26 and April 30. Though Mr. Mukherjee claimed that it abided by the legal norms before notifying the dates, the decision was not only at variance with what the State EC had in mind but also went against the views of every other major political party in the State.

On the differences over the poll schedule, he said: “The law and order situation has not reached a point that necessitates the holding of the election in three, four of five phases”.

Not only does the State EC differ with the State on the number of phases for the polls, it has also been insisting on the deployment of Central paramilitary forces at the poll venues, to which Mamata Banerjee’s government does not agree, maintaining that posting of armed police personnel at the booths would be enough to ensure a smooth election.

Opposition parties too are strongly in favour of deployment of Central security forces for the elections, arguing that the polls run the risk of not being free and fair if security arrangements were to be left to the police only.

Such a deployment, however, would cost the State government an expenditure that it was not in a position to bear, according to Mr. Mukherjee.

“If there is any breach in the law and order, it is the responsibility of the State government, which cannot afford to function only to protect narrow interests,” he said even as he pointed out that “those who shout do not bite… this helps”, speaking of those opposed to the government’s announcement regarding the polls.

  • State Election Commission had sought 3-phase polls with Central security deployment

  • We abided by legal norms before notifying the election dates: Subrata Mukherjee