State Election Commission accountable for all bloodshed during panchayat polls, says West Bengal Governor

SEC requisitions 800 companies of central forces for polls; Governor returned SEC Rajiva Sinha’s joining report on Wednesday, triggering a constitutional crisis as the poll process has already started

Updated - June 22, 2023 09:15 pm IST

Published - June 22, 2023 09:13 pm IST - KOLKATA

Security personnel conduct a route march in Nadia on June 22, 2023 ahead of the West Bengal panchayat elections.

Security personnel conduct a route march in Nadia on June 22, 2023 ahead of the West Bengal panchayat elections. | Photo Credit: PTI

West Bengal Governor C.V. Ananda Bose on June 22 blamed the State Election Commission (SEC) for the violence during the ongoing panchayat poll process in the State, warning that the Commission was accountable for every drop of human blood that is shed in the field. 

“People are disappointed by the apparent inaction from the Election Commission. People are in a state of fear. There is violence, but of course I will not say there is violence all over. But there is violence, and the fact that there is violence cannot be denied,” the Governor said.

On Thursday, the SEC requisitioned 800 companies of central forces to be deployed in the State during the panchayat polls, in accordance with the Calcutta High Court’s directions, though the BJP says this is also insufficient.

Constitutional crisis

Mr. Bose said that he had appointed Rajiva Sinha as the State Election Commissioner, trusting that he would conduct the election process in a free and fair manner. He added that during the election, the Commissioner has power over the police and magistrates. “The Election Commission should not only be impartial but should also be perceived to be impartial. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,” Mr. Bose added.

The Governor’s remarks came a day after he returned Mr. Sinha’s joining report to the State government late on Wednesday night. The development has not only triggered a fresh controversy, but also a constitutional crisis, with questions being raised as to what will be the fate of the Commissioner if the Governor sticks to his stand. Sources say that since the poll process has already started, the State may request the Governor again to complete the formalities of the appointment.

SEC can’t be removed: CM

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ruled out the possibility of removing the SEC, calling it a “cumbersome process”, which must be done through impeachment. The Chief Minister said that SEC was appointed as per procedure with the Governor’s approval, and could not be removed at the drop of a hat. 

“It is constitutional. He [the Governor] had also cleared the file,” Ms. Banerjee said, adding that any attempts to subvert the election process would evoke a strong response from voters.

On June 14, the West Bengal government had also appointed Sanjay Bansal as the additional State Election Commissioner to appoint Mr. Sinha in his duties.

Contradicting the Governor’s claims, Ms. Banerjee insisted that elections have been peaceful so far. “Never ever has the poll process in Bengal been so peaceful. It is the cadres of our party who have been killed. There have been some incidents in three to four booths,” she said.

800 companies

Amid the ongoing slug fest between the Raj Bhavan and the State government, the West Bengal State Election Commission requisitioned 800 companies of central forces to be deployed in the State during the panchayat polls. On Tuesday, the Commission had requisitioned 22 companies of central forces.

The decision to requisition 800 companies came a day after the Calcutta High Court directed the Commission to requisition — within 24 hours — a sufficient number of central forces to be deployed in all the districts of the State. Terming the SEC’s requisitioning of 22 companies as “highly inadequate”, the court added that the number of battalions or companies should not be less than the forces deployed during the 2013 panchayat polls in the State, when 800 companies had been deployed during the five phases of the election process.


Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari said that 800 companies were inadequate, as the number of electorates and booths have grown significantly, and the election is being held on a single day. Mr. Adhikari added that the contempt petition filed by him against the SEC would be heard again on Friday, when his lawyers would raise this issue.

The BJP leader said that the Governor had been misguided by the Chief Minister on appointing Mr. Sinha as the Commissioner.

Eight people have lost their lives since the process of nomination for panchayat polls was announced on June 8. Panchayat elections for 73,897 seats will be held on July 8. Polling will be held on 61,636 booths across 22 districts of West Bengal.

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