For the hundreds of thousands who will be queueing up at the polling booths this sizzling Sunday, the uppermost query will be the 19- hour curtailment of campaign time in West Bengal.
To fall back on the cliche “unprecedented” would be tantamount to labouring the obvious. The eleventh-hour imprimatur of the Election Commission of India has served as a cementing force, bringing the principal adversaries ~ the CPI-M, Trinamul Congress, the Congress, and the BJP ~ on the same page.
The truncated campaign is now the cardinal issue before the electorate as well as the parties and politics in the Bengal court, decidedly more fractious than any other. This was fairly obvious at 10 p.m. on Thursday when it was curtains on electioneering, which could, at any rate theoretically, have continued till 5 p.m. on Friday.
The order is a reflection of the ECs special observer’s critique of Bengal where the law and order scenario is “worse than what it was in Bihar 15 years ago”. Arguably, the Bengal administration ought to have got the message much earlier. Inter-party violence is endemic, and it is pretty obvious that the desecration of Vidyasagar’s statue on Tuesday has provoked Nirvachan Sadan’s unparalleled crack of the whip.
This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Muffled is the high-decibel voice of the campaigner, quite totally bamboozled is the voter. The democratic discourse has been stopped in its tracks. Of course, the Election Commission has abided by the certitudes of the Constitution, invoking Article 324 to curtail the campaign without putting too fine a point on it ~ the state bears witness to what it calls “an atmosphere of fear and hatred and widely prevalent fear psychosis in polling areas”.
The praxis has been exceptional. That said, it is obvious too that the Commission has been suitably wary to protect the Prime Minister’s two engagements ~ election rallies at Mathurapur in South 24-Parganas and another in Dum Dum constituency where the sitting Trinamul MLA does pose a challenge. The Election Commission has thus made itself vulnerable to the charge of double-think run wild.
The revised campaign schedule can be contextualised with the removal of the Home Secretary, Mr Atri Bhattacharya, and the transfer to Delhi of Mr Rajeev Kumar, Additional DG (CID) and Kolkata’s former Police Commissioner who is facing a CBI probe relating to the Saradha and Narada scams.
The striking feature being that the EC has acted against an officer who is far removed from election-related duty. It shall remain a moot point whether Mr Bhattacharya had interfered in the election process by writing to the Chief Electoral Officer with suggestions on the role of central forces. The plot has thickened in West Bengal a week before May the 23rd.