Modi-Mamata again at loggerheads

A day after India’s Election Commission curtailed the campaign time in the final leg of the national election on May 19 following violence during BJP president Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata, opposition parties on Thursday rallied behind Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and accused the poll body of losing its credibility and independence.

Congress party's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a statement that the EC order slashing the campaigning duration in West Bengal by 20 hours is a "dark spot" on India's democracy and institutions like the Election Commission. "The Election Commission has completely abdicated its Constitutional duty under Article 324 to ensure level-playing field, besides negating the due process under Article 14 and 21 (fundamental rights) of India's Constitution," he told reporters.

"The time has come to review the process of appointment of Election Commission," he said, calling for a national debate on the issue. The Congress, a responsible political party, has never cast unwarranted aspersions on the actions of Constitutional bodies, Surjewala said adding "but we are deeply saddened to say that Election Commission of India has completely lost its independence and abdicated its Constitutional integrity."

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah of targeting Mamata as part of a conspiracy and said it reflected a "dangerous attitude". Mayawati charged that in curtailing the campaign time in West Bengal, the EC acted under pressure of the central government. Addressing a press conference in Lucknow, she said "everyday we are getting some kind of news from Bengal for which the BJP and RSS are responsible."

"As far as election-related violence is concerned there, it can be seen clearly that BJP and the government led by Narendra Modi and his chela (follower) BJP President Amit Shah, under a planned conspiracy, have been targeting the Mamata Banerjee government," Mayawati said. "During Lok Sabha elections, Mamata Banerjee and her government are being targeted under a conspiracy to divert people’s attention from failures of the Modi government," Mayawati charged.

The manner in which the 'guru' and 'chela' are after the Mamata Banerjee government is also indicative of a "dangerous attitude which is not only wrong but unjustified," she said adding "such a conspiracy to defame Mamata Banerjee and her government is unbecoming of a PM," she said. Attacking the poll body, she said "it is unfortunate that the Election Commission acted under pressure of the Centre in curtailing electioneering in West Bengal while the PM could address two rallies today". It is now clear that under the present Chief Election Commissioner, Lok Sabha elections are not being held in a free and fair manner, Mayawati charged.

For her part, Mamata thanked the leaders of opposition parties who came out in her support as she protested against the Election Commission's decision to cut short the poll campaign duration in the state. "Thanks and gratitude to @Mayawati, @yadavakhilesh, @INCIndia, @ncbn and others for expressing solidarity and support to us and the people of #Bengal. EC's biased actions under the directions of the #BJP are a direct attack on democracy. People will give a befitting reply," she tweeted.

In a first-of-its-kind in the ongoing parliamentary poll, India’s Election Commission curtailed the parliamentary election campaign time in West Bengal by a day citing ‘safety and security’ of voters in the final phase of polling on Sunday and the state authorities alleged to provide a level-playing field to all candidates.

The EC also ordered immediate removal of West Bengal Home Secretary Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director-general, (CID) Rajiv Kumar for “having interfered in the process of conducting polls by directing the West Bengal chief electoral officer (CEO)” for deployment of police forces. The curtailing of the electioneering time in West Bengal came two days after activists of Trinamool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party fought street battles using bottles, stones and bricks during a road show by BJP President Amit Shah in Kolkata on Tuesday. During the violence, the bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, one of the icons of Bengal’s Renaissance, was vandalized in a college named after him.

Kumar, who was earlier questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with his probe into multi-million Rupee chit fund cases allegedly involving a number of Trinamool Congress leaders in West Bengal, is considered close Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Hitting back to the EC order, Mamata accused the poll body of being ‘biased and politically motivated’.

“I am compelled to say that the commission is totally biased and politically motivated. It is full of RSS men. They only act according to the order of BJP. They never took an action on the basis of the complaints registered by the opposition She alleged the EC has become a spokesperson of the BJP and takes orders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

Mamata and his party workers took out street marches and rallies across West Bengal on Wednesday and Thursday protesting against vandalisation of Vidyasagar’s bust. In a six-page order on Wednesday night, the EC took the unanimous view that some “special measures are urgently needed to arrest the prevailing situation in these nine parliamentary constituencies” in West Bengal where voting will take place on May 19 to create conducive law and order for free, fair and peaceful elections.

The EC ordered that campaigning must end by 10 pm on Thursday — a day before schedule. Campaigning for the seventh and final phase of the general elections was to end at 6 pm on Friday. The EC invoked Article 324 of the Constitution for the first time in this year’s national poll to curtail campaigning for the last phase of voting citing an “atmosphere of fear and hatred and widely prevalent fear psychosis” in the nine constituencies which are set to go to polls in the final phase Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, South and North Kolkata.

Mamata alleged “Modi is doing all this in Bengal because he is scared of me. He is scared of the people of Bengal. If anybody asks me about the name of the Prime Minister, I would say I don’t know. I do not want to take his name. He is a shame for the country. I have never been insulted like this. Modi is the ultimate fascist ruling here. The Election Commission has set a precedent. They have also indulged in vendetta politics. (Defence minister) Nirmala Sitharaman met the EC officials and asked them to stop my campaign. So they issued such an order.”