March 2, 2016
A two member delegation of the CPI(M) consisting of General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and Central Secretariat Member Nilotpal Basu met the Chief Election Commissioner today to draw attention of the Commission to some serious concerns with regard to the forthcoming elections to the West Bengal legislative assembly.
The full text of the memorandum submitted to the Commission is being released herewith.
(Hari Singh Kang)
For Central Committee Office
March 2, 2016
The Chief Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India
At the outset, let us state in categorical terms our confidence in the institution of Election Commission of India and its unabridged right over the holding of elections to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas of the country. This is enshrined in the Constitution as a key element to ensure free and fair polls where every citizen, every valid voter can cast his/her vote without fear or favour.
Despite the fact, that the Left Front Committee in West Bengal has made several communications in writing to the ECI, we, of the CPI(M), feel that it is incumbent on us to draw your attention to some serious concerns which could undermine and adversely affect such unfettered right of the voter which is a bedrock of our parliamentary democracy.
Firstly, we are extremely disturbed over the reported statement of Shri Partha Chatterjee, the HRD Minister of the West Bengal government and the Chief Spokesman of the TMC questioning the jurisdiction of the ECI over matters pertaining to law and order (Annexure 1). It is his contention that law and order belongs to the purview of the state government during the election process. This, together with the reported representation of the TMC claiming that ‘surfeit of central forces’ will adversely affect free and fair poll accentuates our concern. In fact, grave apprehensions about the holding of free and fair polls remain with, not just the opposition political parties but among wide sections of the people and the media. Therefore, we highlight this question as a major challenge for free and fair polls in West Bengal.
Secondly, we recall the experience of the elections held in West Bengal since the TMC has assumed office after the 2011 Assembly elections, including the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. The terrible experience of the Panchayat and the recently held Municipal elections also needs to be noted. It will be pertinent to share that during the Panchayat election, the State
Election Commission, which does not enjoy the wide constitutional powers as the ECI does, had to move the courts to ensure deployment of central forces for ensuring the free and fair polls. And, each time, the SEC got a favourable verdict, it was invariably challenged by the State Government. Ultimately the decision was settled by the apex court. But despite that, there was widespread violence and booth capturing and falsification of the results even at the stage of counting. This is not to exclude the fact, that large number of potential candidates of the opposition was forcibly disallowed to file nominations, withdraw and campaign. In this context, it is necessary to point out that, key to holding free and fair polls in West Bengal would be to provide the voters a violence and fear-free environment by providing security not just inside the polling booth but also in the neighbourhood where they reside and the entire stretch between their residence and the polling stations. You are more conversant than us that in technical parlance of this `zonal domination’ by a non-partisan security force is crucial. There is a definite atmosphere of fear among the citizens; not just the political opposition but a wide cross section of society; even institutions like judiciary have also come under attack. And, this is accentuated by the partisan role of the administration, particularly police who proceed selectively depending on the involvement of the ruling party.
Thirdly, in recent times, there is a spate of violence with escalating violent internal feuds within the ruling party and which has a chilling effect on the general law and order situation. Even police officials have been, at times, at the receiving end of such activities. Not only is there no action to stop them, but there are instances where cases against perpetrators belonging to the ruling party have been sought to be withdrawn by the public prosecutor. What is further disturbing is the repeated discovery of huge cache of arms and explosives, including factories for illegally manufacturing fire arms and bombs. Apart from these, there are a large number of cases falsely framed to pick up opposition activists while allowing the perpetrators of violence to roam free. We strongly believe that there is a strong case for measures to rectify this situation which puts the opposition in a largely handicapped situation.
Fourthly, what is most shocking is the shuffling of officers clearly from a partisan point of view to influence the electoral outcome in complete violation of procedures laid down by the ECI in the past. Two instances will suffice to buttress this point.
At the time of 16th Parliament Election, Chief Minister of West Bengal publicly announced that number of tainted officers would be redeployed in the same position from where they were shifted by Election Commission of India. All opposition parties had lodged serious complaints in regard to special relation that Smt. Bharati Ghosh, SP of West Midnapur district was maintaining with AITC. Recently she has apparently invited AITC leaders to attend a District Police function at Belpahari in West Midnapur. Smt. Ghosh was one such officer debarred from election duty by the Election Commission in the 16th Parliament Election. West Bengal Government is rewarding her with a posting as Officer on Special Duty to deal with Left Wing Extremism. She will operate from State Secretariat, Nabanna. This is an indirect way of keeping Smt. Bharati Ghosh in track with the election activities of Junglemahal comprising three districts namely West Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia bypassing the EC directive of Compulsory rotation of Police Officers serving in the same position for three years or more before election.
A hurried transfer order has been issued by Government of West Bengal on 22 February, transferring Smt. Nandini Chakraborty, a senior IAS officer from the post of Commissioner, Presidency Division to the post of Secretary of Bio-Technology Department. Smt. Chakraborty has been transferred for five times in the last four years.
It is reported in the media that Smt. Chakraborty is implementing the directives of ECI in seven very sensitive districts under Presidency Division. Her way of functioning is apparently not acceptable to ruling AITC. As a result she has been transferred. AITC believes in subservient administration for their own narrow political objective. The hasty transfer order is issued prior to the announcement of Election Schedule by ECI for ensuring posting of an officer of their choice in this sensitive position. Shri Ajit Ranjan Barman, IAS, Secretary of Tourism Department has since been assigned to look after Smt. Chakraborty’s work temporarily as dual responsibility. This was done while the rectification drive was going on.
Fifthly, we would like to draw your attention to the huge financial scam involving Ponzi schemes and which is now being investigated by the CBI at the behest of the Supreme Court. Several important leaders of the TMC, including ministers and members of Parliament, are in custody in connection with these cases. Therefore, there is a real fear of huge sums of ill-gotten funds coming into play to influence the election outcome. In the past, the ECI has been seriously seized with the use of flush funds; but the context of the West Bengal Assembly elections warrants a far more focused attention towards addressing this question.
Sixthly, West Bengal has borders with many states, as well as international borders. Therefore, the ensuring of security for the polls needs to be addressed interstate and cross border movements.
Finally, the Left Front Committee, West Bengal is providing a district wise list of sensitive booths (Annexure 2). But we would like to specifically flag one region, in the tri-junction of Birbhum, Bardhaman and Murshidabad districts. Nanur-Bolpur blocks of Birbhum district constitute a hub of widespread violence and have come to steal media headlines frequently in recent times. Special measures need to be initiated to neutralize such acts of frequent violence in this region.
Anticipating your kind and careful consideration.