In a huge relief for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Election Commission Saturday announced holding of by-elections to Bhabanipur assembly seat, which she intends to contest after her defeat in Nandigram, on September 30, prompting the ruling TMC to “hail” the decision and accuse the BJP of trying to “derail” the process.
Polling for three “deferred adjourned” elections in two other assembly seats of West Bengal and one of Odisha will also be held the same day. Elections to Samserganj and Jangirpur in West Bengal and Pipli in Odisha could not be held due to various reasons, including the death of candidates during electioneering earlier this year. Mamata Banerjee, who led her party to a massive electoral triumph for a third successive term but lost to her former protege-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram, needed to win a seat in the state assembly by November 5 in conformity with the constitutional provisions in order to continue as the chief minister. The Constitution allows a non-member of state legislature or Parliament to continue in a ministerial position only for six months.
Speculation was rife that the poll panel may not order by-elections due to the COVID-19 situation.
The EC has not announced by-elections to four other assembly constituencies of West Bengal.
“The by-polls were a necessity as per constitutional norms but BJP was trying to derail the process for narrow partisan interest. We hail the decision of EC. We will follow all Covid-19 guidelines,” state minister Firhad Hakim said.
Suvendu Adhikari, who is now the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, said the ECs decision proved false the TMCs allegation that it was controlled by the BJP.
“We had always maintained that by-polls and polls to all the seats where they are pending should be held together when the Covid-19 situation improves. We dont know if holding by-elections to one seat and election to two seats is a practical decision since the pandemic is still raging and there is a lurking threat of a third wave,” he told reporters.
Responding to a question, Adhikari described as “fallacious” the submission of state chief secretary to the EC that in view of administrative exigencies and public interest and to avoid a vacuum in the state, by-elections for Bhabanipur, from where Banerjee intends to contest elections, may be conducted. “We will certainly flag the issue in our campaign but we accept the decision of EC,” he said.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh wondered why elections to urban civic bodies are being delayed while by-elections are being held for the state assembly where the TMC enjoys absolute majority.
CPI-M central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said while he welcomed the announcement for holding bypolls for three seats he wanted to know why four other seats were excluded.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya also welcomed the decision.
Banerjee had moved out of Bhabanipur, a seat she had won twice in the past, and challenged Adhikari on his home turf.
After her loss in Nandigram, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, the TMC MLA from Bhabanipur, vacated the seat to facilitate her election from there. A TMC delegation had met the Election Commission in August and made a vociferous pitch for conducting the elections to the vacant assembly seats in West Bengal.
The Dinhata and Santipur assembly seats fell vacant after BJP leaders Nisith Pramanik and Jagannath Sarkar resigned as MLAs to retain their Lok Sabha membership. The Kharda and Gosaba seats fell vacant after TMC lawmakers died from COVID-19.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Federal staff and is auto-published from a syndicated feed.)