Bengal Special Poll Observer Stirs Political Storm

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Kolkata: Special Poll Observer Ajay Nayak’s comments, comparing the current election scenario in West Bengal to that of Bihar over 10 to 15 years ago, has kicked up a political storm in the state with an angry Trinamool Congress seeking his recall and an elated opposition going hammer and tongs at the state’s ruling party.

Objecting to Nayak’s “partial statements”, Trinamool General Secretary Subrata Bakshi shot off a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora demanding Nayak’s immediate removal to ensure free and fair elections in Bengal in the remaining phases.

Following Nayak’s comment, all major state opposition parties, including BJP, the Left and Congress described his observation as “correct” and said it was “unfortunate and shameful for Bengal” that an Election Commission (EC) appointed observer had to make such remarks.

State Congress Vice President Om Prakash Misra accused the Trinamool of reducing the election process in the state to a “farce”.

“It is unfortunate that the EC observer had to make such an observation but in the context of law and order, especially with regards to the conduct of elections, it is very much correct. Bengal has long witnessed violence during elections but everything has been put to shame under the current regime,” Misra told.

When asked whether his party agrees to Trinamool’s allegation that Nayak is not conducting the election impartially, he said: “We also have many questions about EC’s conducts. It is true that BJP is trying to use its power at the Centre. But I do not agree to Trinamool’s claims. They have reduced the election to a joke here.”

Left Front legislature party leader Sujan Chakraborty echoed Misra.

According to the CPI-M’s Chakraborty, Nayak was ” hundred per cent correct”. However, it was “shameful” that Bengal, that was once at the helm, has been reduced to such depths by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party, he said.

“We used to refer to Bihar and UP (Uttar Pradesh) to describe misrule, once. Unfortunately Bengal has now taken that place. Irrespective of Nayaka’s statement, the condition is such that poll workers are agitating everywhere to press their demand for deployment of Central forces. This means people have lost faith in the state administration,” Chakraborty told.

“Everyone has seen that, in the first two phases, there was no problem in the booths where Central forces had been deployed. But the bloody memory of the last Panchayat elections came back to haunt the voters in booths being guarded by state police.

“It clearly shows the pathetic condition of law and order in Bengal and the Chief Minister should be blamed for this,” he said.

BJP National Secretary Rahul Sinha, however, claimed that the comment by Nayak was “an understatement” as the real political scenario in Bengal is much worse.

“I think his statement is not entirely correct. In reality Bengal’s current situation is ten times worse than that of Bihar 10 years ago. There used to be incidents of booth capturing and rigging in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but it never saw such a scale of organised violence like Bengal where the state administration itself is involved,” Sinha told.

“Were close to 200 people ever killed in Bihar during state rural body elections? Did so many seats ever go uncontested? The answer is no. So I think Nayak has made an understatement. The actual condition here is so volatile that emergency should be imposed,” he claimed.

During an off-camera interaction with reporters on Saturday, Nayak had compared the election scenario in West Bengal to that of Bihar over 10 to 15 years ago, and claimed that its people “do not have any faith in the state police”.

He said such heavy deployment of Central forces in polling stations has not been required in any other state.

Speaking to electronic media a little later, however, Nayak toned down his comments, saying “things are improving in terms of election management” in the state.

“Bengal is progressing and things are improving in terms of election management. Bengal’s elections are going to be absolutely peaceful and fair with more than 92 per cent booths to be covered by Central forces.

“This is to the satisfaction of all political parties. We do not expect any kind of trouble in the coming phases,” the Bengal Special Poll Observer said.