June 4, 2013

Left Front Demands Free, Fair Panchayat Elections

KOLKATA: AFTER much confusion and deliberate attempts on the part of the state government to defer the three-tier panchayat elections in West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court on May 14 directed the holding of three phased panchayat elections in West Bengal next month. A division bench directed the West Bengal government to announce full notification within three days in consultation with the State Election Commission. The High Court also directed to complete the poll process by July 15 this year. The division bench did not agree to the state government's decision of holding the poll in two phases. It has asked the government to hold the polls in three phases and declare the poll dates after consulting the Commission.

The division bench in its ruling also directed deployment of armed police in each hyper sensitive and sensitive polling booths, though the deployment of central forces was not made mandatory. Earlier, the State Election Commission had moved the Calcutta High Court challenging arbitrary announcement of two phased panchayat polls by the state government without consulting them. The Commission had also raised objection to the state government's refusal of central forces for holding the elections.

Some grey areas still remained after the verdict about the consultation process between the state administration and the State Election Commission.

Expressing satisfaction on the verdict of the High Court, Biman Basu, the chairman of West Bengal Left Front Committee, said that at last the stalemate on panchayat elections seems to be cleared. He welcomed the deadline set by the division bench of the High Court that the panchayat elections of the state have to be organised by July 15. He demanded that without wasting more time the state government and the State Election Commission should initiate the process of election immediately by releasing the election schedule. The demand of the Left Front will be to ensure free, fair and peaceful election, he said in a press conference at Muzaffar Ahmed Bhawan on May 14, 2013. The Left Front is organisationally prepared to take part in the elections, he added further.

Biman Basu also said that the people became apprehended of losing their long-cherished democratic right. The Left parties repeatedly demanded for the timely panchayat poll and also said about the emergence of a constitutional complexity if the process is not completed in its due course. The absence of elected bodies would also have been responsible for stopping the national grants for rural development. The verdict of the court to hold the election immediately will ultimately release the apprehension of the people, he added. Biman Basu further said that the State Election Commission has to complete the three-tier elections and gazette the names of the winning candidates by this time. He also said that the elections of the students’ union should also have to be initiated. The adult students will cast their votes to elect their representatives in parliament, assembly, municipality and panchayats but how can they be debarred form electing their representatives in colleges and universities, he wondered.

Biman Basu also said that a section of the state police is blatantly toeing the directions of the TMC leadership. The recent verdict of the High Court in favour of CBI investigation regarding the murder of a TMC worker in Dhanekhali, Hooghly is a recent evidence of that. The police also lodged false cases against the CPI(M) leadership and activists in Arambagh in the name of arms-recovery. With such regular incidents it would be tough to keep faith on the neutrality of the state police, he articulated. “As we want the panchayat elections to be completed in time, so we are not raising this issue immediately,” said Biman Basu. But if the Left candidates face obstruction during filing of nomination or campaign then the matter will surely be taken up, he added.

Biman Basu further said that the Left Front is organisationally prepared to take part in the elections. The complete unity between the Left Front constituents has already been achieved in most of the districts. Few disputes will be sorted soon, he added.

Leader of the Opposition and CPI (M) Polit Bureau member Surjya Kanta Mishra commented that it was hard to expect that the state government would be neutral in the process of the election; so the responsibility to hold free, fair and peaceful election is lying with the State Election Commission.  He also said that the Left Front and some other political parties launched movement for the demand of timely panchayat elections and ultimately the verdict could show ray of hope in that direction. It is better to settle the matter here instead of going to upper court to save further delay in the process, he said.

Surjya Kanta Mishra also said that the people of the state have witnessed the open threats given by the state ministers, MPs, MLAs and other leaders of TMC that they will ensure such an arrangement where the Left candidates will not even be allowed to file the nomination papers for the panchayat elections. Though the State Election Commission will be in-charge of the administration after the announcement of the election but the state government does not think twice before maligning any institution if they do not toe with the government line, may it be the State Election Commission, Human Rights Commission or judiciary. We are experiencing political intervention in the police administration. They hardly enjoy an atmosphere to work independently, he said.

Peoples Democracy, May 19, 2013

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