The Election Commission’s order curtailing campaigning for the last phase of polls in West Bengal invited hard-hitting rebuttal from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who termed the decision “unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical gift” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“There is no such law and order problem in West Bengal that Article 324 can be clamped. It is unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical. It is actually a gift to Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah,” she said in a press conference, adding that she had never seen this type of EC which is “full of RSS people”.
Furthering her attack in the poll panel, Mamata said the EC was working at the behest of the BJP and the “politically biased and unethical” decision was timed to allow PM Modi to hold his scheduled rallies in the state on Thursday.
The Trinamool chief went on to compare the incident to the violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. “Goons were brought from outside, they created violence wearing saffron. Violence was similar to when Babri Masjid was demolished,” Banerjee said.
Banerjee said that the poll panel was creating "Emergency like situation" to conduct polls in the state and was "conspiring" against the Trinamool Congress.
In first such action in India's electoral history, the Election Commission on Wednesday ordered campaigning in nine West Bengal constituencies to end at 10 pm on Thursday, a day before its scheduled deadline, in the wake of violence between BJP and TMC workers in Kolkata.
The Election Commission (EC) also ordered the removal of Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General, CID, Rajeev Kumar from their postings in West Bengal.
The EC's action came a day after parts of Kolkata witnessed widespread violence during BJP president Amit Shah's massive road show in the city. A bust of 19th century Bengali icon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised during the violence.
Continuing her attack on the Election Commission, Mamata said the two officers were removed "not by the EC, but by Modi and Amit Shah".
She reiterated her claim that the violence in Kolkata was caused by “BJP goons” who were brought into the state by Shah from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Stating that the EC should have taken action against Shah for violence in Kolkata, Mamata wondered whether the poll body’s directives were due to the “threat” issued by the BJP chief during a press briefing in Delhi earlier in the day.
Shah, in a press conference earlier today, had accused the Trinamool Congress for violence during his roadshow in Kolkata and accused the Election Commission of "double standards" for remaining a "mute spectator" to rigging and violation of the poll code in the state.
On its part, the TMC released videos to claim that "BJP goons" damaged the statue of Vidyasagar and said the videos not only establish what the saffron party did, but proved that Shah is a "liar" and a "dhokebaaz" (betrayer).
The West Bengal Chief Minister also made personal attack on the PM, saying that “Narendra Modi you cannot take care of your wife, how can you take care of the country?”
Power-drunk Mamata throttling democracy: PM Modi
PM Modi said that the Mamata Banerjee government is out to destroy everything in West Bengal and people's conviction and courage will evict the "torturous rule".
The entire nation had seen (on TV) how the roadshow of BJP president Amit Shah was attacked by the TMC goons and is anxiously watching the outcome of the poll results in West Bengal, he said.
Shah's roadshow in Kolkata was attacked Tuesday after Banerjee had asserted that TMC will take revenge against BJP, Modi claimed.
"Didi's (Mamata) goons carrying guns and bombs are bent upon destruction ... Her government is out to destroy everything in the state. People's conviction and courage will evict the torturous rule", he told a poll rally at Taki on the Indo-Bangla border in North 24 Parganas district.
"Didi is frightened by the rise of BJP in West Bengal. The people of the state had given respect to here by making her the chief minister. But power-drunk Mamata Banerjee is throttling democracy", Modi said.
Keeping up his attack on Banerjee, Modi said "You have looted peoples' money in the chit fund scam and when they sought explanations you abused them".
"Democracy has given you the chief minister's chair and you are killing it. The entire country is watching your misdeeds....Didi should not be kept in power. In the last four to five years she has shown her colours".
He held Banerjee responsible for destroying the state's culture of 'Bhadra Lok'.
The people of Bengal have made up their mind to end the Banerjee's "despotic rule" he said.
Arun Jaitley on EC action
Senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the EC order shows there is a classic case of breakdown of the Constitutional machinery in the state.
A constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India, has effectively held West Bengal to be a "state in anarchy", said Jaitley in series of tweets.
Repeatedly escalating violence, state supported vandals, a partisan police and home department are the illustrations the ECI has given, he noted.
"A free campaign is not possible and therefore the campaign has to be cut short. This is a classical case of breakdown of the Constitutional Machinery," the minister said.
Congress’ Ahmed Patel questions EC order
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel wondering if the poll panel is "waiting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to complete his public meetings" there.
Reacting to the development, Patel tweeted, "If situation in Bengal is so severe that campaigning must be stopped, why is EC waiting until tomorrow? Is it because PM has scheduled rallies tomorrow?"
"Isn't it unprecedented that EC claims it's an unprecedented situation in West Bengal but yet is waiting for PM to complete his public meetings?" he said in another tweet.
WB Governor condemns vandalisation of Vidyasagar statue
West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi condemned the vandalising of a bust of 19th century Bengali icon Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and said the culprits should be traced and punished.
"As the chancellor of Calcutta University, I am greatly pained at the vandalising of Vidyasagar statue. The real culprit for breaking the statue must be traced out and suitably punished," he said in a statement.
What the EC ordered
In a hurriedly-convened press conference, Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said it was for the first time that such an action has been taken using constitutional powers of the poll panel.
The poll panel also ordered the removal of Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General, CID, Rajeev Kumar from their postings in West Bengal.
Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, who is in charge of West Bengal, said Bhattacharya "stands relieved" from his current charge immediately, "for having interfered in the process of conducting elections" by directing the state chief electoral officer, which he was not supposed do. The state chief secretary will look after the charge of the home secretary.
He said Rajeev Kumar has been attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs here and should report to his new assignment by 10.00 AM Thursday.
"This would be the first time when EC has invoked Article 324 in this manner but it may not be the last in cases of repetition of lawlessness and violence which vitiate the conduct of polls in a peaceful and orderly manner," Deputy Election Commissioner Kumar said.
"Now, therefore, the Election Commission of India, in exercise of its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution ...Hereby directs that no person shall convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with the election," the eight-page order read.
The order also barred any musical concert, theatrical performance to attract people in connection with the polls.
It said liquor or similar intoxicants cannot be served in election going areas in bars, hotels and traven shops during the ban period.
The EC invoked Article 324 of the Constitution to curtail the campaigning for the last phase of the election on May 19.
The constituencies where campaigning has been curtailed are -- Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Kolkata Dakshin and Kolkata Uttar.
The order on curtailment of the campaigning was signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra.
(With inputs from agencies)