The question is whether the Election Commission will go by the book and or just let it be to avoid further flare-ups
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee takes pride in cooking and hosting homely meals for those she likes. But what she has been cooking lately to desperately stay in power in Bengal spilled over at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar on Saturday.
The chief minister has been repeatedly and publicly instigating her supporters, especially women, to come out and attack Central security forces deployed for the peaceful conduct of elections. On Thursday, they did. A mob attacked Central Industrial Reserve Force (CISF) personnel, breaking vehicles and injuring several soldiers.
When they were quelled, a much larger mob attacked the CISF men and reportedly tried to snatch their weapons, at which point they fired.
Four people — Nur Alam Mian (20), Maniruzzaman Mian (28), Samiul Haq (21) and Hamidul Mian (31) — were killed. Mamata, long accused to blindly siding with Muslims for electoral gains, swiftly called it genocide.
But she has said little about the killing of a scheduled caste Rajbanshi man, Anand Burman, who was shot at Sitalkuchi on the same day, but without any provocation.
This was bound to happen. In rally after rally, Banerjee kept exhorting her supporters to indulge in violence against the Central forces, frustrated that a 2018 panchayat election-like mass-scale intimidation and rigging had become difficult in this eight-phase Assembly poll.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has sent Banerjee two notices so far. One is on her communal appeal to Muslims to unitedly vote against the BJP. The other is about maligning the Central forces and instigating people against them.
The chief minister has said: “Don’t care.”
There is a perception that the ECI is largely toothless in such situations. But there are quite a few precedents of strong action against high-profile candidates.
During 1999 Lok Sabha elections, then Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala was expelled from the Bhiwani constituency by chief election commissioner (CEC) JM Lyngdoh. He was not even allowed to vote.
The same year, ECI barred Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray from contesting elections and voting for six years after a speech delivered during a bypoll.
In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, the ECI ordered covering of all statutes of BSP leader Mayawati and her election symbol, elephants.
Himachal Pradesh governor Gulsher Ahmed was pulled up and forced to resign after he canvassed for his son in MP’s Satna seat.
Then Uttar Pradesh governor Motilal Vora had to rescind transfer orders of a police superintendent by CEC TN Seshan.
In 1994, Seshan asked then prime minister Narasimha Rao to remove sitting ministers Sitaram Kesari and Kalpanath Rai for allegedly influencing voters with tall promises.
The ECI took Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi and Azam Khan off campaigning in April 2019 for provocative speeches.
Amit Shah’s rallies were banned for some days during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the 2020 Delhi elections, Union minister Anurag Thakur was been banned for 72 hours and BJP MP Parvesh Verma for 96 hours. BJP leader Kapil Mishra was barred for remarks during the Shaheen Bagh agitation.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, ECI stopped the release of a biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
ECI even cancelled Baba Ramdev’s yoga camps in the 2014 Lok Sabha election season.
The list is long, and has prominent names such as Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sadhvi Pragya. But whether the ECI will take a tough stance against Mamata for her brazen flouting of rules and defiance is unclear.
The BJP is probably in two minds on what to wish. It should be happy to see Mamata being pulled up, but it also fears that the Trinamool leader is trying to provoke ECI action against her to draw voter sympathy.
The question is whether the Election Commission will go by the book and or just let it be to avoid further flare-ups.