India for its vast cultural and geographical diversity has often been referred to as the "Republic of many small Republics". West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee seems to have taken this axiom quite literally by considering West Bengal to be an independent state above and beyond the Constitution of India and the rule of law that emanates from it — the law that governs the entire country.
This becomes even more evident from the fact that even in the time of general elections when the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) acts as a unifying 'law' for all Indian citizens, who are entrusted with the task of electing the new government, Mamata Banerjee has chosen to play by her own rules which are making a mockery of the Model Code of Conduct.
The Model Code of Conduct as enunciated by the Election Commission of India is meant to be followed by the candidates and political parties during elections. One of them reads: political parties and candidates shall ensure that their supporters do not create obstructions in or break up meetings and processions organised by other parties.
In case of guidelines to the “ruling party” it states: public places such as maidans etc, for holding election meetings, and use of helipads for air-flights in connection with elections shall not be monopolised by itself. Other parties and candidates shall be allowed the use of such places and facilities on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power.
On Monday, the West Bengal government denied permission to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to organise a rally in Kolkata’s Jadavpur constituency which was to be addressed by BJP president Amit Shah. An obvious question that was asked was whether or not this amounted to the violation of the Model Code of Conduct and complete disregard for the election rules by the Mamata Banerjee government.
Also, the fact that election watchdog has also failed to take note of this raises serious questions. Hitting out at Mamata Banerjee, BJP leader and Union Minister Prakash Javadekar during a press conference held on 13 May said, "West Bengal is being ruled under the dictatorship of Mamata Banerjee. Today, Amit Shah was to address a rally in Jadavpur. We had applied for permission 4-5 days ago. Initially, they said the permission will be granted. But today at 8.30 pm, they informed us that permission will not be granted."
According to a Business Standard report, after permission was denied to Shah to hold the rally in Jadavpur, BJP representatives on Monday met the West Bengal’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) accusing Trinamool Congress "of using the state's police and administration to suppress the BJP".
The report quoted BJP leader Sunil Deodhar who said, “CM Mamata Banerjee is contesting elections using police and administration of the state because she has lost people support. That is why she is trying to suppress BJP using the government. They do not give permission for our leaders to hold rallies in the state."
Deodhar also accused Ratnakar Rao, the District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas, of “working as an agent of TMC” and sought his removal.
This is not the first time when permission has been denied for a rally that was to be addressed by the BJP president. Earlier in January, Shah’s chopper was denied permission to land in Malda district and only after BJP registered its protest that permission was granted to hold a public meeting.
In December 2018, Shah was denied permission to hold rath yatra from Coochbehar by the Calcutta High Court. The state government had argued in the court that permission was denied because it feared that the rath yatra might instigate "communal tension".
Shah is not the lone BJP leader who has been denied permission by the West Bengal government to organise rallies and roadshows. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Aditynath was also denied permission in February. Adityanath was to address a rally in North Dinajpur but after being denied permission, he addressed a rally in Seemanchal region in Bihar that shares its border with West Bengal.
Now, according to an India Today report, the BJP on Monday claimed that once again permission for Yogi Adityanath's Kolkata rally (to be held on 15 May) has been denied. The report states that permission for Union Minister Smriti Irani's rally has also been denied.
An officer on a poll duty in Uttar Pradesh told Firstpost that granting permission for rallies is majorly the responsibility of the district administration and the returning officers (RO) who are usually district magistrates, and are under the state government. They sometimes work at the instruction of their political masters and here the role of Election Commission becomes important as it has to ensure that any misuse of state machinery is checked.
One of the most important reason for imposing Model Code of Conduct during elections is that the party in power cannot misuse the state machinery for its benefit. The Election Commission is entrusted with this responsibility because of the high probability of misusing the state machinery by the ruling dispensation.
While the Election Commission has been quick in censuring, reprimanding and even barring leaders from different political parties (for a stipulated period) from campaigning, when they were found guilty of violating the Model Code of Conduct, its silence on the blatant misuse of state machinery by the West Bengal government — by stopping leaders of BJP from campaigning — is raising serious questions on its working and intent.
Only three days are left before the campaigning for the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections come to an end. In this context, it is even more important for the Election Commission to pull up its socks and ensure that arbitrary decision of the West Bengal government is strictly curtailed and all the parties get fair chance to seek votes as this is the basis of free and fair elections, safeguarding which is the main mandate of the Election Commission of India.
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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 00:11:40 IST