The reign of terror and the situation of lawlessness prevailing in the state of West Bengal is known to all. This terror only increases during the election season. Election Commission (EC), in an effort to counter and effectively control the threats, have introduced several strategies due to which West Bengal can finally have free and fair elections.
Welcome moves by ECI on West Bengal: 1) appointment of Special Observer 2) increase in quantum of para-military deployment 3) facilitating action against Bangladeshi campaigners. Now please act against threats and intimidation of voters. Let’s have a free and fair poll in Bengal
— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) April 17, 2019
The most major one of these strategies has been the appointment of a Special Observer for the elections. Ahead of the 2nd phase of elections, due to take place on 18th April, the EC appointed Ajay Nayak for the post of the Special Observer on Tuesday. Nayak is a 1984 batch IAS officer who was the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) in Bihar. Ajay Nayak has already proved his excellence in conducting difficult elections, as is quite evident from his performance during the Bihar Assembly elections in 2015. Nayak ensured a smooth conduct of free and fair elections in the state. He kept a strict check on the candidates to ensure they abide by the model code of conduct along with handling the illegalities such as the hoarding and distribution of black money and liquor along with gold and silver. It is expected he will inculcate the same model in West Bengal as well.
Apart from keeping a check on the candidates, measures have been taken to ensure safety of the voters as well. The EC has decided to deploy 194 companies of central forces, which is nearly 15,000 para-military troopers for the three constituencies of Darjeeling, Raigunj and Jalpaiguri which will undergo polls on 18th April. The total number of booths in these constituencies is 5,390. This welcome decision came after the opposition parties complained of malpractices during the 1st phase of the elections in which 83 companies of Central Forces were deployed. Periodical incidents of booth capture, smashing of electronic voting machines and intimidation of voters were reported from parts of Cooch Behar and Alipurduar constituencies during the 1st phase. This is almost 150% increase in forces, from 83 companies in the first phase to 194 for the second, making it the highest ever deployment in recent years.
The EC official stated, “194 companies of central forces will be on guard at 80 per cent of the polling stations in the three north Bengal constituencies. There will also be arrangements of webcasting to help the ECI officials, both in Kolkata and New Delhi, to oversee the polling process.”
The other 20 per cent of the booths will be manned by the state armed police, aided with CCTVs, webcasting, videography and micro-observers. Apart from that, six companies of central forces will be deployed to guard the strong rooms.
Moreover, the Election Commision official said, “there are chances that the EC will seek hundred percent paramilitary force cover” for the next five phases.
This move by the EC comes as a huge relief for the voters. Especially since Darjeeling will be undergoing polls in this phase. In Darjeeling, around 50 per cent of the total booths have been marked ‘sensitive’, due to the geographical location of the constituency and the recent reports of violence in the region.
The EC wants to instill confidence among voters with this heavy deployment of forces. The voters don’t need to feel threatened to exercise their democratic right. However, Trinamool Congress has criticized this welcome move. A Trinamool Congress leader in Jalpaiguri said, “They are trying to manipulate the process by deploying central forces. State forces have the capability to conduct elections in a better way.”
With voter safety and candidate check out of the way, another pressing issue has been handled by the EC. Trinamool Congress, in a highly unethical move, had roped in several Bangladeshi actors to campaign for the elections. Due to this, not only are they drawing heavy flak from the opposition parties, but have also drawn attention of the Union Home Ministry.
A video has appeared of Bangladeshi actor Ferdous Ahmed campaigning for Trinamool’s Raiganj Lok Sabha constituency candidate Kanhaiyalal Agarwal in Islampur of North Dinajpur district. Along with this, another video had appeared showing another Bangladeshi actor Gazi Abdun Noor campaigning alongside Trinamool leader Madan Mitra in support of the party’s Dum Dum constituency candidate Sougata Roy.
This unprecedented move in India’s democratic history has brought up issues of legality, visa rules and ethics, with calls for arrest of the dramatis personae.
In light of these events, the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission here asked Ahmed to return home. An official of the Deputy High Commission for Bangladesh stated, “Based on media reports, he was asked whether he participated in the campaign or not. Ahmed told us that he was there for the purpose of shooting and had participated in the (ongoing Lok Sabha election) campaign. It was not a right thing to take part in the election as a foreign national. He was asked to go back.”
The Union Home Ministry announced that they had cancelled Ahmed’s visa and asked him to leave the country.
The lawlessness in the state of West Bengal has been quite prevalent. This had been evident during the Panchayat elections in 2018, when the thugs of TMC had unleashed terror to prevent the Opposition candidates from filing nominations. Massive political violence had taken place in these elections which only ended after the intervention of the Calcutta High Court.
The earlier decision of EC to conduct the West Bengal elections in 7 phases was a much hailed move to counter the lawlessness of the state. Now this has been supplemented by these welcome moves to ensure candidate ethics along with voter security. The EC is all set to counter TMC hooliganism to ensure the conduct of free and fair democratic elections in WB.
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