The Election Commission on May 15 curtailed campaigning in Bengal for the last and seventh round of the general election following violence during BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata. The BJP and the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress have blamed each other of inciting the violence on Tuesday, during which a bust of Bengali icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was vandalised.
First time in India’s electoral history
The Election Commission has invoked Article 324 of the Constitution to curtail the campaigning for the May 19 election. This is the first time in the country’s electoral history that the Election Commission has used constitutional powers given under Article 324 to curtail campaigning time.
What Article 324 says
Superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission:
1. The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every state and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President held under this Constitution shall be vested in a Commission (referred to in this Constitution as the Election Commission).
2. The Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.
3. When any other Election Commissioner is so appointed the Chief Election Commissioner shall act as the Chairman of the Election Commission
4. Before each general election to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of each State, and before the first general election and thereafter before each biennial election to the Legislative Council of each state having such Council, the President may also appoint after consultation with the Election Commission such Regional Commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the Election Commission in the performance of the functions conferred on the Commission by clause (1).
5. Subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, the conditions of service and tenure of office of the Election Commissioners and the Regional Commissioners shall be such as the President may by rule determine; Provided that the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court and the conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment: Provided further that any other Election Commissioner or a Regional Commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.
6. The President, or the Governor of a state, shall, when so requested by the Election Commission, make available to the Election Commission or to a Regional Commissioner such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the Election Commission by clause (1).
What the EC order means
Campaigning in nine West Bengal constituencies will end at 10 pm on Thursday night (May 16), a day before its scheduled deadline.
In its eight-page order, the EC said, “Now, therefore, the Election Commission of India, in exercise of its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution …hereby directs that no person shall convene, hold, attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with the election.”.
The order also barred any musical concert, theatrical performance to attract people in connection with the polls.
It said liquor or similar intoxicants cannot be served in election going areas in bars, hotels and traven shops during the ban period. The order said it has been brought to the notice of the Commission that there have been growing incidents of disruption and violence during the political campaigns and processions in West Bengal during the ongoing elections.
“During the review with the observers it clearly came out that while logistics arrangements…are mostly on track…there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level-playing field to all candidates for campaigning and in providing a fearless and free environment to the voters,” the order read.
What EC observers say
The EC said the observers pointed out that while on the surface, everything looks fine, in their frank interactions with the public the fear psychosis that is widely prevails comes out.
“They pointed out that utterances of the AITC [Trinamool Congress] senior leaders on the lines of ‘central forces will leave at the end of elections, while we will remain, sends a chilling message among the officers as well as voters alike,” it said referring to the report of special observers Ajay Nayak, a former IAS, and Vivek Dubey, a retired IPS.
Which are the nine constituencies
The constituencies where campaigning has been curtailed are — Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Kolkata Dakshin and Kolkata Uttar.
The order on curtailment of the campaigning was signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra.
(With inputs from agencies)