Kolkata: West Bengal’s ruling party, Trinamool Congress (TMC), has sharpened its attack on the Election Commission of India (ECI) after party chief Mamata Banerjee’s injury, alleging lapses in her security arrangements, and accusing the ECI of “working at the behest of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)”.
Mamata Banerjee had taken her first dig at the ECI the day the polling dates for four states and one Union Territory was announced. Referring to the eight-phase polling in the state over 34 days, of which 23 days are after polling in all other states would be over, she had asked whether the ECI had prepared the dates in consultation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah to suit their campaign schedule.
Following her injury on Wednesday, the TMC, in a strongly-worded letter submitted to the chief electoral officer of the state on Thursday, took sharp digs at the ECI for arbitrary changes in the posting of senior bureaucrats since taking over the charge of the state administration. The party has alleged that some unknown persons had entered the crowd and deliberately pushed her.
She has suffered a fracture near her heel and injuries to ligaments and muscles and is undergoing treatment at the SSKM hospital, a premiere government-run hospital in Kolkata.
‘A deep rooted conspiracy’
“It appears that there is a nexus between the complaints by BJP against the erstwhile DGP, the ECI unilaterally removing the director general of police (DGP), (and) the superintendent of police (SP), and the district police (who report to the new DGP) being absent at the time of the brazen attack on Mamata Banerjee,” said the letter signed by the TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee, Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien and state minister Chandrima Bhattacharya.
“At the time of the assault, neither the SP nor the local police, was present to give her security cover, even though she is a Z-plus protectee. Only her personal security officers were with her,” the TMC complained. It suggested that the seniormost police officers should be chosen with great discretion and mutual consultation.
The state’s DGP Virendra was replaced on Tuesday by the ECI. The TMC’s letter said that the ECI had “summarily removed and replaced the DGP without any consultation with the state government, at the behest of the BJP” and added that “an attempt” on her life took place within 24 hours of the state’s DGP’s removal.
The party also referred to the transfer for additional DGP (law and order), Jawed Shamim, a few days before the DGP’s removal, and alleged, “Deliberate transfers at the top echelons of the police administration on the instruction and at the behest of BJP, are having serious destabilising impact on the state administration.”
Terming the “gruesome attack” as “a deep rooted conspiracy to take the life of our chairperson”, the TMC called for an immediate investigation.
Mamata Banerjee sustained injuries in Nandigram on Wednesday, barely a few hours after submitting her nomination for contesting from that high-profile seat that came to political prominence during 2007-08, largely due to her role in leading an anti-displacement movement, in which Suvendu Adhikari was her chief local leader. After Adhikari’s switch over to the BJP, Mamata decided to herself contest from the seat.
In a video message from the hospital bed, she told her party supporters to maintain peace and that she was likely to use a wheelchair for the campaign but would not miss out on her scheduled meetings.
The TMC had strongly criticised the transfer of senior government officials during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well and Banerjee had reinstated all such officers to their original posts soon after the elections were over.
To describe the alleged partial attitude of the ECI, the TMC on Thursday also cited a case in which the party’s Joypur constituency (Purulia district) candidate Ujjwal Kumar’s candidature was rejected by the returning officer on Wednesday, following which Kumar moved the Calcutta high court.
On Thursday, justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya set aside the returning officer’s order, terming the officer’s grounds as “hyper technical.”
Since then, the TMC has launched a campaign citing how they were facing obstacles from all corners.
Last week, the party had wrote to the ECI, seeking the removal of deputy election commissioner Sudeep Jain from the responsibility of being in-charge for the Bengal elections, alleging that his actions during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections were “completely biased, partisan, reeked of partiality and tainted.”
The ECI, however, rubbished the charges against Jain soon after.
According to political observers, the TMC is trying to create pressure on the ECI, as the party believes many of the ECI officials’ moves were influenced by BJP leaders.
The BJP has long been alleging that the administration in Mamata Banerjee regime had been “completely politicised”, a charge that was also echoed by the state’s governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Other political opponents of Mamata Banerjee, the CPI(M)-led Left Front and the Congress, have also spoke in the same tone.
All parties had submitted deputations before the ECI seeking special arrangements to ensure free and fair elections in the state, which has a few decades’ history of political violence ahead of, during and after the elections. This time, central paramilitary forces arrived in the state even before the elections were announced.
The BJP’s state unit spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya did not want to comment on any controversy involving Mamata Banerjee’s injury. “We first want to see her get well soon. The allegations that she is making (of a conspiracy to harm her) is a major one and needs to be thoroughly probed,” he said.
BJP leaders Sabyasachi Dutta and Sisir Bajoria went to the office of the chief electoral officer on Thursday. They too sought a probe and requested the commission to make the video footage of the incident publicly available.
“The footage should be made public so that people get to know what actually happened and the blame do not come on the ECI. They should make such videos public in their own interest,” Dutta said.
The ECI had sought a report from the state police on Wednesday itself. A senior officer of the state police, who did not want to be named, said that a preliminary report had been submitted to the ECI by Thursday afternoon and it termed the incident as “an accident” and ruled out the possibility of “an attack.”
However, there has been no official statement from the ECI at the time of filing this report.