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Standoff with Election Commission ends as Mamata Banerjee blinks first

Wednesday, 9 April 2014 - 9:20am IST | Place: Kolkata | Agency: dna

  • Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee arrives at an election rally in Bankura, West Bengal on Tuesday PTI

Mamata Banerjee blinked first in the face-off with the Election Commission averting a possible constitutional crisis with the West Bengal government agreeing on late Tuesday evening to transfer eight bureaucrats and police chiefs after the poll regulator set a deadline till 10am on Wednesday to obey its orders.

"We will transfer the officials for the time being. They will again be brought back to their respective positions. But after the elections, it would be a big issue. There is a need to discuss how a constitutional body can engage in politics and control a democratically elected body," Mamata said in a hurriedly-called press conference on Tuesday evening.

The Election Commission on Monday directed transfer of five superintendents of police and three district magistrates and additional district magistrates and also mentioned the respective replacements.

These officials shouldn't be put on poll duties and have to be transferred by Tuesday, the order said.

Except in the case of Alok Rajoria, superintendent of police in Birbhum district, the transfers of all other offiicials -- SPs of Midnapore, Murshidabad, Burdwan and Malda and district magistrates of North 24 Parganas and additional district magistrates of West Midnapore and South 14 Parganas – were due to allegations of bias towards the ruling party.

This angered Mamata Banerjee who was touring the districts. While addressing a rally in Burdwan district, Mamata said she won't follow this directive and even dared the EC to arrest her.

The chief minister alleged that the decision was a conspiracy against her and was aimed at pleasing Congress leadership. She should have been consulted before deciding on the transfer of so many officials.

"I respect the Election Commission but I am not stooping in front it. It is a conspiracy. I will not remove a single officer. Let the EC come and arrest me. I throw this challenge to the EC. I will put in my resignation. Let's see how the EC takes charge of the state's law and order," she said.

Then on Tuesday state chief secretary Sanjay Mitra wrote to the commission to reconsider its decision. The state government said it was ready to transfer the officials, but refused to accept the replacements as this would inconvenience the administration.

As a way out of the face-off, the state gave a list of alternative names, three against every official supposed to be transferred.

The request was rejected by the Election Commission which communicated its decision to the chief secretary during the day.

Mamata, who was then hopping from one rally to another and in a heightened state of excitement, reacted sharply to the rejection of the state's request by the EC, said in a rally at Barjora that the order wouldn't be followed.

"You (poll commission) want to transfer officials just to help the Congress win? If the case is genuine, I have no objection but the accused doesn't know what the allegation is! Nobody can make me do any wrong consciously. We are unlike any other party, and Mamata Banerjee would hold her head high till death," she said indicating her defiance but also keeping a window of compromise open.

The state is likely to give effect to the EC's order before the Wednesday morning deadline as in late afternoon on Tuesday, the chief secretary wrote a note to the chief minister suggesting such a course of action.

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