The great Indian elections are here, with the curtain being raised on the first phase on Monday peacefully. But West Bengal was deprived of this peace on Monday with an impending war being ticked off between the Election Commission (EC) and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Election Commission has decided to transfer seven top officials in the state government from any election related duties. By taking this decision without consulting the state government, the commission has set an unprecedented example for West Bengal.
The tussle between the government and the commission is not new in India, and definitely not in West Bengal, where in a tiff with TN Sheshan, Jyoti Basu called him a megalomaniac. But this time the commission has made its concerns clear: it is sceptical about the partisan behaviour of officials during polling, and that this might hamper the running of free and fair elections. Mamata, in her characteristic fiery manner, has challenged the commission saying she will not transfer anyone and would fight from prison if the commission arrests her. Some Election Commission officials in return have warned that it could postpone or cancel the polls in certain areas in Bengal if the state government refuses to budge.
It is expected and natural for everyone to question Mamata’s unrelenting behaviour when the constitution mandates superior power to the commission in election times, and the government has no option but to listen to it. It is also ridiculous that Mamata would call the commission officials agents of the Congress, the CPIM and the BJP, who are trying to rig the elections. She also mentioned elsewhere that they were all ganging up against her because she is a woman. But that would just be her playing plain politics of victimhood, because she is not speaking these words at a press conference in Kolkata, but at rallies in the hinterland in Hooghly and Burdwan.
The collusion among bureaucrats, police officers and the ministers are not new in India or Bengal. When Rizwanur was killed in Kolkata in 2006, the police commissioner called a press conference two days after the body was found and said it was a “simple case of suicide” even before the post mortem was done. He said it was “natural” for a father to oppose a marriage where “financial and social status does not match”. He also said the police had always dealt such cases in the same manner and would do so in future.
Quickly thereafter, the state’s chief of CPIM came out in support of the police force, in a case where the police had intervened in a personal matter on behalf of a rich industrialist family. Thirty-four years of rule had brought Bengal to a point where the party, the government, the officials, bureaucrats, the police force: all of them subsumed into an image of the state that was arrogant. Some might say that same arrogance is now seen in Mamata and her workings as well.
However, it is unclear what made the Election Commission take the decision it has taken. Why were only seven officials transferred? Why not more, or less, and why just these names? Why does the name of officers like Bharati Ghosh, whom the government has given much credit for restoring peace in Junglemahal, feature in the list? The constitution surely rests more power in the commission; but the commission must also rest its authority on better clarity. Today the debate around this battle between the commission and the state is merely political: a better explanation of its decisions will keep the politics intact, but infuse the discourse with more sense.
|DM, North 24 Paraganas||Sanjay Bansal||Omkar Singh Meena|
|ADM, South 24 Paraganas||Alokprasad Roy||Koushik Bhattacharya|
|ADM, West Midnapore||Arindam Dutta||Vaibhav Srivastava|
|SP, West Midnapore||Bharati Ghosh||Sisram Jhajhoria|
|SP, Murshidabad||Humayun Kabir||Sayieed Waqar Raja|
|SP, Burdwan||SMSH Mirza||Miraj Khalid|
|SP, Maldah||RK Jadav||Rupesh Kumar|
|SP, Jhargram||Bharati Ghosh||Alok Rajoria|
|SP, Birbhum||Alok Rajoria||Rashid Munir Khan|