West Bengal polls: TMC alleges 'bias', EC denies; doctors sound alarm over 'disappearing' COVID protocols in rallies
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee took a swipe at the BJP for fielding the turncoats in the polls and leaving saffron party old-timers to 'shed tears'
The Trinamool Congress on Friday accused the Election Commission of being partisan and having a biased attitude towards the ruling party while the Bharatiya Janata Party called Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the 'queen of rigging polls'.
Meanwhile, NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), revealed that 25 percent of the 191 candidates contesting in the first phase of Bengal polls have declared criminal cases against themselves.
It also revealed that 50 percent of candidates (96) have declared their educational qualifications to be between Class 5 and Class 12 while 92 (48 percent) candidates have declared to be graduates or above. Three candidates are diploma holders. Out of the 191 candidates, the report said 19 (10 percent) are crorepatis.
Nine (50 percent) of the 18 candidates analysed from CPM, 11 (38 percent) out of 29 candidates analysed from BJP, 8 (28 percent) out of 29 candidates analysed from AITC, one (17 percent) out of six candidates analysed from Congress, one (9 percent) out of 11 candidates analysed from BSP and two (seven percent) out of 28 candidates analysed from SUCI(C) have declared serious criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits.
The report said 12 candidates have declared cases related to crime against women
Politics aside, the state is staring at a worrying situation in terms of the coronavirus pandemic as doctors expressed concerns over the complete abandonment of safety protocols at election rallies.
TMC MPs meet EC, say free, fair elections in WB becoming 'distant reality'
Alleging that fair elections in West Bengal are becoming a distant reality, a delegation of TMC MPs met the Election Commission on Friday to register their protest against the poll panel's reported decision to not permit state police personnel within 100 metres of polling stations.
The TMC parliamentary delegation, including Saugata Roy, Yashwant Sinha, Md Nadimul Haque, Pratima Mondal and Mahua Moitra, described the Election Commission's approach as partisan and biased.
"It is becoming increasingly clear that free, fair and transparent elections in State of West Bengal is becoming a distant reality. This is evident from the partisan and biased approach taken by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in respect of the ongoing elections in the State," a memorandum submitted to the apex poll panel said.
"On the first count, it has been reported in media that the ECI has decided to not permit the presence of State police within 100 m of polling stations and only deploy Central Forces in such arena. If true, this decision is unprecedented and casts severe aspersions on the reputation of the police administration in the State of West Bengal," it added.
Stating that the ECI's decision is only for West Bengal and not the other four poll-bound states in the country, the Trinamool Congress said the deployment of central forces should be to help the state government deal with law and order and "not deliberately demonise the state police personnel that have worked under different governments".
"Propriety demands that there should be proper coordination between the State and Central forces to ensure free and fair elections and that combined groups of both State and Central Police forces be deployed within 100 m of the polling booths," the letter by the party said.
Despite several requests, it said, the apex poll panel had summarily dismissed the demand for tallying of all VVPAT machines, allegedly on account of a decision of the Supreme Court of India passed in March 2019.
According to the party, its detailed submissions on the matter had clearly not been factored in.
"We urge you to withdraw your decision to deploy only central forces within 100 m of the polling stations. Further, we reiterate our demand to tally 100 percent VVPAT machines with EVMs after polling is over, to reassure the voters that his/her choice has indeed been recorded, both electronically and physically," it said.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission denied the allegation that it has issued any order asking the state police to remain stationed 100 metres away from polling booths, India Today reported.
The poll panel's full bench will visit the state on 23 March to review the preparedness for the polls.
"The full bench of the ECI is likely to visit West Bengal on 23 March to supervise poll preparations. They will hold meetings with senior officials of the state administration, particularly in those areas which are going to polls in the first phase," the official told PTI.
Mamata slams BJP for giving tickets to TMC turncoats
Branding TMC rebels as "traitors" like Mir Jafar, the TMC supremo took a swipe at the BJP for fielding the turncoats in the polls, leaving saffron party old-timers to "shed tears".
Addressing a poll rally at Egra in Purba Medinipur district, Banerjee also accused BJP of practising "politics of riot, loot and murder", and urged everyone "to be on guard against outsiders appearing in their localities".
"Gaddars (traitors), Mir Jafars have now become BJP candidates to the dismay of old-timers of the saffron party," she said in an obvious reference to Suvendu Adhikari and Rajib Banerjee who had shifted allegiance to the BJP along with other leaders like Mukul Roy.
Mir Jafar, the military general of Bengal's last independent nawab Siraj-ud-daulah, is considered a hate figure for deceiving the besieged nawab during the Battle of Plassey in 1757, paving the way for British rule in India.
BJP is witnessing protests from its cadres at several places for giving a ticket to TMC turncoats ignoring them. The TMC, which has made 'Bengali pride' its core poll plank, has called the BJP a "party of outsiders" as its top leaders hail from outside the state.
Venting her anger against the TMC leaders for crossing over to the BJP, she said that "these turncoats" were given many responsibilities in the past but they did not do justice with the job.
Banerjee is pitted against her protege-turned-adversary Adhikari in the Nandigram seat where voting will take place on 1 April. The anti-land acquisition movement at Nandigram had catapulted Banerjee to power in 2011, ending the 34-year rule of the Left Front in Bengal.
Asserting that the victory of the TMC in the Assembly polls "will be the precursor to dislodging the BJP in Delhi", Banerjee said: "If you want me to be at the helm again, make every TMC candidate a winner."
At the second meeting in Patashpur in the same district, Banerjee took a dig at the Adhikari family, "Purba Medinipur was controlled by a particular set of people. I had blindly trusted them, but in return, I got treachery and betrayal. I could never imagine that from 2014 he was in touch with BJP. I couldn't realise, so I apologise before you," she said without naming Adhikari.
The West Bengal chief minister also asked the people of the state to maintain a vigil outside counting centres where the EVMs will be kept after polling, saying "Do not leave the place even if central security and state police ask you to do so. Also, if an EVM malfunctions, ensure that the machine replacing it is tested properly."
However, Adhikari vehemently opposed the attack and labelled the West Bengal chief minister the "queen of rigging".
"Queen of rigging is saying that vote-rigging will happen. The election will happen in a democratic way and that is why she is disturbed. Even now she is misusing administration, police and using ghuspaitheye (intruders) and Pakistanis. Police is a mute spectator. But the people are with us,” the BJP leader told ANI.
Doctors warn of rising COVID-19 cases, lack of social distancing at rallies
A joint platform of doctors in West Bengal on Friday wrote to the Election Commission, sounding an alarm over the rising COVID-19 cases and "complete disappearance" of safety protocols at political rallies in the poll-bound state. The doctors have also flagged the non-availability of beds in COVID-19 hospitals as well as free ventilators in the state.
"The number of COVID-19 victims in West Bengal has been increasing significantly over the last seven days. Mutant strains have been found in the bodies of several patients, too," Dr Hiralal Konar and Dr Punyabrata Gun, representing the Joint Platform of Doctors, said in a letter to the chief election commissioner. The forum has over 30,000 doctors under its fold.
"Several patients are being admitted in COVID-19 ICUs once again, and there is a shortage of beds as well as free ventilators... While it is not possible to conclude with certainty about the initiation of the second wave, this trend is quite alarming," the doctors said.
"Safety protocols have completely disappeared in the process of holding rallies and meetings of all political parties on the occasion of the upcoming elections in the state," they added.
Ordinary people, political leaders and even some security personnel are either seen without face masks or place those below the chin, exposing the nose and the mouth, the letter said.
"In other words, every act of spreading the contagion is being observed and all the political parties... agree to remain silent on this crucial issue of public health," it said.
The doctors also cited a study that states that only one-fourth to one-third of the population has detectable antibodies against coronavirus.
"Out of 10 crore people in the state, only 20.3 lakh people have been vaccinated till date," the doctors said in the letter.
West Bengal's COVID-19 tally surged to 5,79,826 on Friday as 347 more people tested positive for the infection, while one fresh fatality took the state's coronavirus death toll to 10,301, a health bulletin said.
With inputs from PTI
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