Trinamool Congress has finally met its match in Bengal. It is in the form of Election Commission (EC)!! With the first phase of polls just a matter of weeks now, the EC is trying to clamp down on any possible code violation by the political parties. It seems that EC’s efforts are not going down well with the cadres and leaders of the dominant party in Bengal.
Events so far
Over the last week, there have been sustained complaints against TMC for causing obstruction in normal functioning of E.C. Firstly, in Habra, a government official (B.D.O) was allegedly manhandled by TMC goons in presence of the local MLA. The government official who was working for Election Commission was trying to remove party posters from government space according to guidelines when he was attacked. Even before the uproar caused by that event has died down, a similar incident has taken place yesterday.
In Howrah, Soumen Acharya a member of district “Model Code of Conduct Cell” was manhandled when he and his staff tried to take down posters present nearby EC’s office. Again local TMC workers are the accused in this case. The camera chip which recorded the whole incident has also been allegedly confiscated by the cadres. Election Commission has taken cognizance of the matter, and this is likely to be a major flash point in the days to come.
The ruling party however has denied all these claims. They allege that EC has been selective in their operations. The counter charge is that in most of the cases while trying to enforce model code, only TMC flags and posters were taken down. State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been vitriolic in her remarks. She has branded some of the workers working for EC as selfish, little giants who are trying to put a spanner in TMC’s path. Giving example of states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu she said in a rally that huge cut-outs and festoons are there to be seen even in front of government buildings. Didi alleges that in Bengal EC is playing by different rules. The common charge against the EC staff is that they are mostly CPIM supporters masquerading as government officials.
This is not the first time the TMC and EC relations have run into patchy water. The same happened during the Panchayat elections last year also. On the question of supremacy between State Government and State Election Commission regarding fixing of poll itinerary etc., the matter went to court. Finally Election Commission prevailed. State Election Commissioner Meera Pandey was virtually demonised by the ruling party for her alleged partisan behaviour. This latest run-ins thus have an acute sense of déjà vu.
Opposition up in arms
The opposition parties are expectedly livid. Leader of Opposition in the assembly, Suryakanta Mishra has warned the government of not trying to emulate tricks used during the Panchayat polls. Congress and BJP have also condemned the attack against EC workers. All the opposition parties want that central forces be present in all the booths during 5-phase elections, so that the process can go about peacefully.
Government officials in a fix
In all this game of political grandstanding, the WBCS officers of the state are in most trouble. It must be remembered that though E.C conducts the largest democratic exercise in the world it has very little staff. In every state, EC takes service of government officials to conduct their operations. So with TMC locking horns with EC these officials are in catch-22 situation. Originally employed by the state, they are now working for the EC. With the line between party and the government being quite fluid, nobody wants to be seen as hostile to the current regime. It is to be seen how EC skilfully manoeuvres its troops and enable voters to freely exercise their democratic rights.