Violence forces Election Commission to cut short campaign in Bengal and remove 2 top officials

Election Commission of India (ECI). (File Photo: IANS)

New Delhi: In the wake of violence in West Bengal, the Election Commission on Wednesday took an unprecedented step of curtailing poll campaign in the state by a day as it ordered stoppage of electioneering from 10 pm on Thursday on the remaining 9 Lok Sabha constituencies going to the polls on May 19.

The Election Commission also removed with immediate effect the state’s Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya for “having interfered” in the poll process and relieved controversial IPS officer Rajeev Kumar from his post of ADG CID, with orders to report for duty in the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi tomorrow at 10 am.

The poll body invoked for the first time Article 324 of the Constitution which gives it special powers to control and give directions for holding elections.

There will be no election campaign in 9 Parliamentary constituencies of West Bengal from 10 pm tomorrow till the conclusion of polls on May 19, an EC official said at a press conference.

The campaigning would have normally ended at 5 p.m. on Friday along with 50 other seats across 6 other states and one Union Territory.

The decisions have been “taken as an action on violence in West Bengal on Tuesday,” the EC official said, about the action taken a day after widespread violence witnessed in the state during a road show conducted by BJP President Amit Shah.

The constituencies — Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Kolkata (South) and Kolkata (North) – are going to the polls in the 7th and last phase of the elections on May 19.

“This is probably the first time that ECI has invoked Article 324 in this manner but it may not be the last in case of repetition of lawlessness and violence which vitiate the conduct of polls,” the official said.

The official said the decisions were taken “keeping in view the recent developments in West Bengal, especially during the last 24 hours, representations received from political parties, report of DEC in charge of West Bengal in ECI and the joint report of Special Observers Ajay Nayak, IAS (Retd.) and Vivek Dube, IPS (Retd.).”

He said the campaigning has been curtailed to ensure free, fair, transparent, non-violent, ethical elections during the 7th phase on May 19.

“The Commission hereby directs that no person shall convene, hold, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with election or display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus or propagate any election matter to the public by holding or by arranging any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting the member of the public in connection with these elections,” the poll body said.

It also ordered that no spirituous, fermented and intoxicating liquors or other substances of a like nature shall be sold given or distributed at a hotel, eating house, shops or any other place public or private within polling areas in nine parliamentary constituencies.

“Election Commission of India is deeply anguished at the vandalism done to the statue of respected late Shri Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay who was conferred the title of Vidyasagar by Sanskrit college Kolkata besides his many other achievements as a philosopher, academic educator, writer and philanthropist,” the official said.

About Atri Bhattacharya, the EC said he “stands relieved from his current charge immediately for having interfered in the process of conducting the elections by directing the Chief Electoral Officer in West Bengal through a letter dated May 13.”

The Chief Secretary of West Bengal will look after Bhattacharya’s charge, the EC said.

Rajeev Kumar, the former Kolkata Police Commissioner, has earlier been questioned by the CBI in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had in February staged a 70-hour dharna after the CBI made a bid to question Kumar at his residence in Kolkata, which was thwarted by the local police.

The CBI later had to approach the Supreme Court to make the questioning possible.