The Election Commission on Sunday announced the dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to be held in seven phases. There are three states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — that will go to the polls in all seven phases, but only one of them is opposed to the schedule.
Soon after the Election Commission announced the dates, the Trinamool Congress was up in arms against the BJP-ruled Centre, claiming that the BJP had submitted false data on the law and order situation in West Bengal to the polling monitor, which had forced it to declare a seven-phase election for the state.
Senior TMC leader and state minister Firhad Hakim, who is also the Mayor of Kolkata, said the "Central government has intentionally misled the EC with wrong inputs about the law and order situation in the state".
Meanwhile, the BJP welcomed the move to hold the election in West Bengal in seven phases, claiming that this is a "clear indication that a state of lawlessness prevails in West Bengal".
The charged atmosphere in West Bengal in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election has been marked by several incidents of political violence. The two parties have also gone back and forth with their accusations against the other — the BJP has accused the TMC government of denying permission to its leaders, including party president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani, to land their helicopters near the site of their rallies; the Mamata Banerjee government had blocked the BJP's proposed statewide 'rath yatra'; both parties have accused the other of resorting to dirty politics to lure leaders of the rival parties to switch loyalties, so much so that the TMC claimed that the BJP was trying to buy TMC leaders.
The BJP has always claimed that West Bengal suffers from perennial lawlessness, with the TMC firing back by saying that the saffron party was responsible for stoking this very law and order situation.
Adding to the opposition to the seven-phase elections in West Bengal is the fact that three of these phases will fall during the month of Ramzan this time. The Muslim fasting month will be observed from 5 May to 4 June this year.
Hakim had noted that "the seven-phase election will be tough for people in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, but will be most difficult for those who will be observing Ramzan at that time".
"Since the Election Commission is a constitutional body, I don't want to comment much on the matter. But they should have considered that people will suffer during Ramzan (while casting votes)," he said.
Local leaders are likely to rake up the issue further and make Ramzan a key issue of Bengal politics in the run-up to the elections as nearly 31 percent of the electorate in West Bengal comprises Muslim voters.
Hakim claimed that the BJP "doesn’t want minorities to cast their votes". "Minority population in these three states is quite high. They will cast votes by observing 'roza'. The Election Commission should have kept this in mind. The BJP wants minorities to not cast their votes. But we aren't worried. People are committed to BJP hatao-desh bachao," he said.
Interestingly, while announcing the dates and the process followed to come up with the schedule, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said that the team had taken into account festivals falling in the same months as the polls.
The TMC isn't alone in questioning the election dates. In fact, the West Bengal Congress has urged the Election Commission to reconsider its decision to hold the polls in the month of Ramzan. "People belonging to the minority community will suffer a lot during elections as three of the seven phases are falling in the month of Ramzan," said state Congress president Somen Mitra said.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Amanatullah Khan also pointed out that holding the election in Delhi on 12 May would "directly benefit the BJP" as there would be fewer Muslim votes on account of Ramzan.
Another AAP leader, Sanjay Singh, said the Election Commission should have kept festivals of all religions in mind while deciding the schedule. He tweeted that the poll panel was spending millions on appealing to voters to exercise their franchise but was ensuring reduced Muslim participation by holding three phases of the Lok Sabha election during Ramzan.
चुनाव आयोग मतदान में हिस्सा लेने की अपील के नाम पर करोड़ों ख़र्च कर रहा है लेकिन दूसरी तरफ़ 3 फ़ेज़ का चुनाव पवित्र रमज़ान के महीने में रख कर मुस्लिम मतदाताओं की भागीदारी कम करने की योजना बना दी है सभी धर्मों के त्योहारों का ध्यान रखो CEC साहेब
— Sanjay Singh AAP (@SanjayAzadSln) March 11, 2019
Singh also claimed that the Election Commission was working under pressure from the BJP and had chosen the dates to thwart Muslim participation in the polls to suit its agenda.
On the references to Ramzan, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha alleged that the TMC was indulging in communal politics by saying that the long election season will inconvenience the people from the minority community.
"Why is the TMC worried about a seven-phase election? By raising the issue of the minorities, the TMC is indulging in communal politics. They are talking about Ramzan month to get Muslim votes. They want to polarise voters. Last year, the panchayat polls were also held during the month of Ramzan. I appeal to the people to not support this kind of politics," Sinha said, according to The Indian Express.
Union minister VK Singh also came to the defence of the Election Commission on Monday. He said it was not the poll panel's fault that a few of the phases of voting were falling during the Ramzan month as the dates of the Muslim fasting month changes every year.
Besides questioning the need to hold the election in smaller states in seven phases, political parties are more than likely to bring up the Ramzan controversy at rallies and make BJP allegedly using the poll panel as a puppet one of their key talking points.
The Lok Sabha election is scheduled for 11 April, 18 April, 23 April, 29 April, 6 May, 12 May and 19 May. The votes will be counted on 23 May.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Mar 11, 2019 14:00:02 IST