Bengal poll campaign order: EC's neutrality in serious doubt
"EC has refused to be a part of the NDA coalition. It has said it will extend support from outside," thus goes one joke doing the rounds on social media since quite some time. The ultimate vindication of the creator of this post must have come on Wednesday, May 15, when the Election Commission of India (ECI) cited violence in West Bengal and ordered that campaigning for the May 19 elections be ended at 10 PM, May 16, 19 hours prior to the scheduled cut off time. The ECI's neutrality is being questioned by the common people on the streets of Bengal.
If the ECI was so concerned about the alleged 'clash' that took place between All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and BJP supporters, they should have taken the step right away and suspended campaigning with immediate effect. However, one needs to understand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to address two rallies on May 16. So once they are done and dusted, the ECI's ban on campaigning will kick into action.
The Election Commission of India took little cognizance of the video footage that clearly showed saffron-clad goons from the Amit Shah road show on May 14 charging at a educational institution of historical importance in Kolkata and indulging in breaking its offices and setting fire to two wheelers apart from breaking the bust of 19th century social reformer and Bengali icon Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. There was no other party visible in the video footage, thus rendering the claims of a 'clash' as a figment of imagination that was given legitimacy by BJP leaders and the party's social media cell. It instead relieved the West Bengal Home Secretary of his duty after Kolkata Police rounded up hundreds of suspects from various city hotels after studying the video footage.
This is for the first time in the history of the country that the ECI has invoked Article 324 of the Constitution. The constituencies where campaigning has been curtailed are Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Kolkata Dakshin and Kolkata Uttar.
The desecration of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar's statue has hit the heart of the Bengali society and people in the state have been shocked. In this atmosphere, giving an extra 19 hours to those parties opposing the BJP would have spelt more bad news for the BJP. So, one suspects the ECI stepped in to contain the damage already inflicted.
But the damage is already done. The BJP, in spite of all the tall talk of the Modi-Shah duo of winning 23 seats and the obscene amount of money spent, does not have the organisational strength or machinery to match its rivals. As ground reports come in, the party should be grateful if they can end with a tally of three seats from the state.