West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee alleged on Tuesday that Union home minister Amit Shah was manipulating the election commission, prompting a stern response from the poll watchdog that called the politician’s charges unfortunate insinuations.
The EC’s four-page response came to a March 14 letter to chief election commissioner Sunil Arora by the chief minister to reinstate personnel suspended by the poll panel and meet all political parties. The EC letter mentioned that Banerjee repeated many of the same charges in her Bankura rally on Tuesday.
“I have highest regards for the EC but the Union home minister is interfering in it. I even suspect that he is running all of it. If this continues India will be sold,” said Banerjee at a public meeting in West Bengal’s Bankura, which goes to polls on March 27, the first of eight phases.
Hours later, the EC letter justified the suspension of Vivek Sahay, former director security, for lapses in Banerjee’s security last week when she sustained injuries in Nandigram during a public interaction. It also listed four meetings between Trinamool Congress leaders and the poll panel, with the apparent aim to refute her charges of political bias.
“Commission maintains the position that they would not like to keep on being put in the dock for being in proximity to any political entity. However, if hon’ble CM persists in creating and attempting to perpetuate this myth for reasons best known to her, it is singularly unfortunate,” read the letter, signed by deputy election commissioner in-charge of West Bengal Sudeep Jain.
The letter, seen by HT, also mentioned the location and dates of meeting with TMC leaders. “Notwithstanding the above meeting in Kolkata and Delhi, if it is stated by the CM that the commission should meet political parties, it is only an attempt to belittle the institution of the commission with repeated innuendos and averments,” the letter states
The CM and EC have been on a warpath since elections were announced earlier this month, first over the prolonged schedule, then over the transfer of key personnel and finally Banerjee’s injury. The TMC has alleged a deliberate conspiracy but the poll panel’s observers have ruled out an attack.
On Tuesday, Banerjee addressed three back-to-back rallies in Bankura and Purulia districts, sitting on a wheelchair. She said Shah was hatching conspiracies against her and party and cited Sahay’s removal as an example. “The Union home minister is sitting here (Bengal). He has no other work. He does not run the nation. He only conspires to carry out attacks,” she said.
“He (Shah) is always conspiring on how to assault someone, get someone arrested, send the income tax department to someone, send the CBI to raid someone’s home. Can this happen during elections? Even my home secretary was sent a CBI notice yesterday. This is not acceptable during elections. They think this will silence us. I want to tell the BJP that you cannot silence me. Even if nobody is left in India to protest, I will be there,” she added.
In her March 14 letter, Banerjee asked the commission to reconsider its decision to suspend the director security and alleged that it would endanger her security. She also asked the EC to listen to all political parties impartially.
In its response, the EC reiterated reports by the chief secretary and special observers about the Nandigram incident. “The overall synergy which is required to be established between directorate of security and local/district police for a visit in the countryside bound to be chief minister who is a Z+ protectee was not there,” chief secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay said in his report, according to the letter.
The letter added that the special observers noted the lack of police response when Banerjee’s convoy was slowed down or halted. The commission noted that the special observers found at least six counts of failure by Sahay, including not sticking to the approved route plan, preventing further changes in the route, inability to persuade Z+ protectee from removing seat belt opening the door and providing security to the protectee.
The letter added that the panel authorised the chief secretary to appoint a new director security, and IPS officer Gyanwant Singh was already placed in the position.
The Bharatiya Janata Party refuted Banerjee’s charges. Samik Bhattacharya, chief spokesperson of Bengal BJP said, “Banerjee and other TMC leaders are targeting Shah and Modi to divert people’s attention because they can foresee their defeat. The manner in which the TMC is attacking the ECI is an insult to a Constitutional authority. If the TMC has any complaint against the EC it should approach the right forum.”