Dear EC, Why Stop Campaigning Only After Modi’s Bengal Rallies?
Video Editor: Mohd. Irshad Alam
There are several troubling questions that arise from the Election Commission’s unprecedented decision to cut short the campaigning period in Bengal for the seventh and final phase of polls.
On Wednesday, 15 May, the EC announced that campaigning for the last 9 seats in West Bengal would have to end at Thursday, 16 May, 10 pm, a full 19 hours earlier than seats in other states that are going to the polls on 19 May.
Here are some questions that the EC must answer about how it arrived at this decision.
Question 1: Is This A ‘Punishment’? Then Why Are ALL Parties Being Punished?
The reason given by the EC to cut short the campaign was that it is “deeply anguished at the vandalism done to the statue of Vidyasagar.”
Is this a punishment handed out by the EC for the violence between BJP and TMC workers during Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata? If that is the case, then why are ALL political parties and candidates being disallowed from campaigning? For example, why can’t Left, Congress and independent candidates campaign till Friday, 5 pm?
Question 2: Why Not Call Off Campaigning With Immediate Effect?
If this is not a punishment, but instead the EC is worried of an impending danger of further violence, then why did the EC not call off all campaigning with immediate effect? Why wait till Thursday 10 pm when the EC could have called it off on Wednesday evening itself?
Does the EC feel that the looming threat of violence will somehow be absent on Thursday but present on Friday? What’s the rationale, dear Election Commission?
Question 3: How Does The EC Justify A 24-Hour Delay?
Mamata Banerjee has already accused the EC of allowing campaigning only till Thursday night so that PM Narendra Modi can deliver his two scheduled election rallies in Bengal on Thursday. Modi did not have any rallies planned in Bengal for Friday. How does the EC justify this 24-hour delay?
Question 4: Why Not A Similar Reaction For More Severe Cases Of Violence?
Was the reason for the EC’s decision based solely on the violence during the Amit Shah roadshow? If so, then how is it that more serious instances of poll violence, elsewhere in the country and in Bengal, did not attract a similar action from the EC?
For example, in Odisha this April, a BJD candidate was arrested for allegedly assaulting an EC magistrate, and 11 persons including Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik and another BJD nominee were injured in a spate of political violence in the state. Did the EC take such a drastic move in Odisha as it did in Bengal? Nope.
Even in Bengal itself, during the second phase of polling, there were widespread reports of violence and booth-capturing. In the sixth phase, four party workers of the TMC and BJP were found dead. But the EC did not make such a move then.
Is the EC therefore suggesting that the incident during Amit Shah’s roadshow, where there were no reported major injuries, supercedes all these other cases when it comes to violence? Because this is what has attracted the seemingly strongest punishment. Was it then an exaggerated reaction by the EC?
Question 5: If Not Based Just On Vidyasagar Violence, Why Didn’t Decision Come Earlier
If the EC’s decision was based not just on the violence on Tuesday but also on the fact that Bengal has witnessed violence in each phase of the election so far, then why did this decision by the EC come this late in the election season, affecting only the last day of campaigning in the state?
The EC says it is probably the first time it has used Article 324 of the Constitution to cut short the campaigning period in an election. But the decision has only raised more questions about the conduct and neutrality of the poll body.