Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 84

Panchayat Elections in W est Bengal West 2013

Buddhadeb Ghosh

Institute of Social Sciences

The Institute of Social Sciences was founded in 1985 to study contemporary social, political and economic issues and problems in an inter-disciplinary perspective and to make available its findings and recommendations to government bodies, social scientists, policy makers, peoples and workers organizations, so as to widen their options for action. The evolution of an informed and action-oriented public opinion is the primary aim of the Institute. The research projects undertaken by the Institute cover a wide range of subjects in the areas of local governance, womens studies, environment and contemporary economic and political issues. The Institute also organizes seminars, workshops, discussions and training programmes for the exchange of ideas and dissemination of its research findings. The major research thrust of the Institute is in the areas of Local Governance (Panchayati Raj) and International Affairs. The Institute seeks to build a community of concerned scholars and activists for ushering in a humane and just society. Chairman Dr. George Mathew Director Dr. Ash Narain Roy

Institute of Social Sciences


8 Nelson Mandela Road, New Delhi - 110 070
Phone: 91-11-43158800, 43158801, Fax: 91-11-43158850 Email: issnd@issin.org; www.issin.org

Panchayat Elections in W est Bengal West 2013

Buddhadeb Ghosh

Institute of Social Sciences


8 Nelson Mandela Road, New Delhi - 110 070
Phone: 91-11-43158800, 43158801, Fax: 91-11-43158850 Email: issnd@issin.org; www.issin.org

First Published: 2014 Layout & Design: Joshy Jose Institute of Social Sciences 8 Nelson Mandela Road New Delhi - 110 070 India

Printed at Kalpana Printing House, L-4, Green Park Extension, New Delhi - 110016 Price Rs.200/$20

About the Author


Buddhadeb Ghosh is the Senior Fellow at the ISS. Before joining the Institute, Shri Ghosh served in the State Civil Service of West Bengal in various capacities including a stint as the Director, State Institute of Panchayats, Kalyani. His specialization is in the fields of local government, public administration and institutional issues of rural development. He has undertaken large number of research projects on decentralization, local government reform, decentralized planning and civil society organizations. Some of the research projects or consultancy in which he was involved on behalf of the ISS are: Accountability Mechanism of Keralas Panchayats, Decentralization and Poverty Reduction in West Bengal, Methodology of Gram Panchayat Level Planning , Methodology of District Planning, Activity Mapping for Panchayats in Himachal Pradesh, Scoping Study of Decentralization and Convergence Issues in West Bengal, Accountability and Transparency of the NGOs, Political Economy of Panchayats in West Bengal, Background papers on the Reform of Panchayats for two national Commissions, namely, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and the Second Administrative Reform Commission. He has to his credit many papers published in the journals and anthologies or presented in the national seminars. Among the books/ monographs authored by him are West Bengal Panchayat Election, 1993 - A Study in Participation (Co-author), Institute of Social Sciences and Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1996, State politics and Panchayats in India (Co-author), Manohar Publishing Company and CSH, New Delhi, 2003, Panchayati Raj - Evolution of the Concept, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, 1998.

Contents
Page No
Introduction Conflict between State Election Commission and State Government Judiciary Intervenes Violence casts its shadow on the elections Rise of Trinamul Congress: An Analysis Conclusion Appendix A Appendix B1 Appendix B2 Appendix B3 1 4 25 38 49 58 63 70 71 72

FOREWORD

he present study is the latest in the series on Panchayati Raj by the Institute of Social Sciences, which has been conducting periodic research and analytical studies on the subject for the last 29 years. Elections to local self governments are the base of the democratic system in India. When the elections are held in a free and fair manner, these ensure that for the next five years the local governments can function democratically with constitutional legitimacy. Therefore, elections to the panchayats and municipalities must be held regularly and conducted according to the norms evolved over the years. The constitutional status to the panchayats ensured this. The State Election Commissions (SECs) were set up for every state under Articles 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution for conducting elections to the panchayats and municipalities. The powers of such Commissions in respect of conducting elections are no less than that of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in their respective domains. Despite this, the state governments often trample upon the jurisdictions of the SECs and tend to keep them as weak bodies or show reluctance in extending cooperation to these constitutional institutions. The syndrome of undermining the position of the SEC and denying its pivotal role in conducting the local body elections by the state government was visible in a very blatant form in the West Bengals panchayat elections of 2013. The conflict between the state government and a constitutional body raised not only serious doubts about the fairness of the 2013 panchayat elections in the state, but was also to a great extent responsible for the breakdown of law and order in many places during the elections. One of the panchayat election studies the Institute conducted was in Punjab in 2008. Prof. Partha Nath Mukherji, who conducted the study, critically reviewed the role of State Elections Commissions. He observed: The paramount role of the State

Election Commissions is of critical importance in safeguarding democracy. Along with the three institutional pillars of Indian democracy the legislature, the executive and the judiciary the Election Commission of India along with the State Election Commissions constitute the fourth pillar. The Election Commission of India is fully empowered to play its role without fear or favour of the party(ies) running the national government. It may be recalled that ECI before Mr. Seshan took charge as Commissioner, generally could not avoid being used as a tool of the government-in-power. The Election Commissions at the State level are mostly in their pre-Seshan stage and have to be equally empowered to play their legitimate roles vis--vis the State governments. The State Election Commissions in both West Bengal and Punjab have yet to acquire the status of an autonomous, powerful constitutional instrument undeterred by the power of the ruling party. It is in this context the study on the conduct of West Bengal Panchayat Elections 2013 was taken up by the Institute of Social Sciences. I thank Shri Buddhadeb Ghosh, Senior Fellow of the Institute, for conducting the study and completing it in a short time. I also extend my thanks to Ms. Joya Roy for editing the report. I am confident that the insights which this report provides and the areas of concerns raised in understanding the process of panchayat elections in West Bengal 2013 will be of great value for further research. The study will go a long way in formulating new guidelines for holding panchayat elections in a free, fair and non-violent manner on time in other States also. George Mathew Chairman Institute of Social Sciences

17 January 2014

PANCHAYAT ELECTIONS IN WEST BENGAL 2013


BUDDHADEB GHOSH

INTRODUCTION
est Bengals panchayats were revived in 1978 when elections were held under a new Panchayat Act (West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973) establishing for the first time in the state three-tier panchayat system1. The first elections under this Act were held in May 1978. Thereafter, 6 more panchayat elections were held at regular intervals of 5 years. The 7th panchayat general elections were held in 2008. The 8th general elections to panchayats were due in the month of May 2013. They were finally held in July 2013. In many ways this panchayat election was different from those held earlier. First, this was the first time since the early 1980s that elections to the panchayats could not be held in due time, leading to the creation of a constitutional vacuum for a few months, as the term of the elected representatives who had been running the panchayati raj institutions since 2008 expired in the month of June or early July and the newly elected panchayats could not begin functioning before September 2013 after completion of the elections of chairpersons. Secondly, this was for the first time that the elections have been preceded and accompanied by a long drawn out conflict between the State Election Commission (SEC) and the State government over several issues culminating in a legal battle. The nature and the issues of this conflict including the response
1

West Bengals Panchayati Raj system consists of 3,349 Gram Panchayats at village level, 341 Panchayat Samitis at block level, 17 Zilla Parishads in the districts. There is also a Mahakuma Parishad having the powers of a Zilla Parishad for Siliguri sub-division of Darjeeling district, as other areas of the district are covered by the Gorkha Territorial Administration.

of the judiciary to the issues raised by the two contestants need to be recorded and analysed carefully, as they have relevance not only for West Bengal but also for other states. Thirdly, from the time of their re-birth in 1978, West Bengals panchayats have grown under the strong influence of the regime of the Left Front in the state. The outgoing panchayats were also elected during that regime, even though around 50% or so of gram panchayats belonged to the non-Left parties. This was the first election that was being conducted under the regime of a non-Left party at the state level. Fourthly, this is the first time that reservation quotas in the panchayats have been raised substantially with the inclusion of OBCs in reserved seats and raising of womens quota from onethird to 50%. Last, but not least, this election witnessed unprecedented incidence of violence in various forms criminal intimidation, arson, physical assault, abduction and even murder at all stages of the elections, namely, the nomination phase, campaign phase, polling phase, counting phase and at the time of election of chairpersons of panchayats. In general West Bengals panchayat elections have some unique characteristics. First, elections to all the three tiers are fought here on party basis, with candidates contesting elections with party symbols. Second, it is one of those rare states where elections to the local bodies have been held regularly from 1978. So, much before holding of such elections had been made mandatory by the Constitution, the state on its own was holding elections regularly. So far only two studies have been conducted to analyse previous panchayat elections of the state: one by the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD0 and the other by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS). The NIRD study2 focused on the first elections held in 1978 and the ISS study3 on the 4th elections held in 1993.
2 M. Shivaiah, K.B. Srivastava and A.C. Jena, Panchayati Raj Elections in West Bengal, 1978, NIRD, Hyderabad, 1980. 3 Girish Kumar and Buddhadeb Ghosh, West Bengal Panchayat Elections 1993: A Study in Participation, Institute of Social Sciences and Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1996.

Objectives of the present study The present study focuses on the following aspects of the panchayat elections of West Bengal, 2013.

Conflict between the State Election Commission and the State Government; Judicial intervention in the holding of panchayat elections; The scope, power and the role of the State Election Commission; Violence in elections; Verdict of the voters: Analysis of election results.

CONFLICT BETWEEN STATE ELECTION COMMISSION AND STATE GOVERNMENT

ne of the most important features of the 2013 panchayat elections is, as mentioned, the long drawn-out conflict between the State Election Commission (SEC) and the state government of West Bengal. The conflict arose over almost every major issue, starting with the timing of the elections. The story of this conflict is unique in the annals of the governments engagement with other constitutional authorities and, therefore, deserves to be narrated in detail. In this section, we shall provide the narrative4. When will the elections take place? The first point of disagreement between the SEC and the state government emerged over the time of holding elections. The Commission wrote to the state government in April 2012 requesting the latter to communicate its views on the tentative date(s) of panchayat elections in a phased manner. This letter remained unanswered for three months, even though two reminders were sent - one in late April and the other in July. Ultimately a reply came from the state government in midAugust, 2012 in which it was stated that it would like the panchayat elections to be held sometime in December 2012. In reply to this letter, the Commission pointed out that according to its own understanding it would be nearly impossible to hold elections before March 2013, because there were many preliminary works, such as, preparation of electoral rolls, delimitation of constituencies, reservation of seats, among others, that had to be completed before poll dates were announced,
4

This narrative has drawn substantially on the facts provided in the judgment delivered by Mr Justice Biswanath Somadder of Calcutta High Court in the case, West Bengal State Election Commission Versus State of West Bengal and others, WP No 315 of 2013.

each of which would take a minimum time period to complete. Accordingly the government was requested to reconsider its views regarding the time of holding elections. But the government seemed to see no reason to do so and insisted that the elections should be completed by January 2013. Again the Commission pointed out how much time was required to delimit constituencies, to finalise electoral rolls and to complete other kinds of preparatory work and then showed why it was difficult to hold elections before March. The state government continued to insist that elections should be held in January, without caring to appreciate or to contradict with strong reasons the arguments of the Commission. The Commissions estimate about the time period necessary to complete pre-poll works was based on the assumption that its action on the adoption of the electoral rolls of the Assembly/ Parliamentary elections for the panchayat elections would be taken up after the on-going revision work of the same was completed. Since the state government was insisting upon the holding of elections in January, it requested the Election Commission of India (ECI) to postpone the work of revision of electoral rolls till the panchayat elections. Assuming that the ECI would accede to its request, the SEC West Bengal informed the state government in its letter dated 27 September 2012 that it agreed to hold panchayat elections in four phases between 28 January and 6 February 2013. But the ECI informed the SEC on 29 September that it was unable to postpone the work of revision of electoral rolls. Accordingly, the SEC in its letter dated 1 October 2012 withdrew its stand with regard to the schedule for panchayat elections in January-February 2013, as communicated in its earlier letter. In the same letter, the Commission suggested a new schedule of elections in four phases starting on 4 May, 2013 considering the fact that revised electoral rolls of the ECI would not be available before 15 January 2013 after which adoption of electoral roll for panchayats5 and other preparatory
5

The SEC West Bengal adopts the electoral rolls prepared by the Election Commission of India for Assembly/Parliament elections. In doing so, the SEC adopts the latest roll available before issuing electoral notifications.

works could be taken up. In suggesting the new schedule, the Commission also took into consideration other constraints, such as, examinations of the Secondary and Higher Secondary Boards, which were scheduled to be held in February and March. Despite the Commissions pleading, which was based on statutory and administrative reasons, the state government rejected once again the formers suggestion on the revised schedule of panchayat elections. Instead it insisted on the elections being held in one day in the first half of February, 2013 a proposal that was totally unpractical and also unacceptable, because the SEC was strongly against holding elections in one day and there were serious administrative constraints in holding elections in February. The above narrative of what transpired between the SEC and state government brings out a portrait of a state government that takes a rigid stance on its own views, but refuses to give arguments to demolish the opposing point of view or to establish its own view. Regarding the timing of elections, the government first insisted on holding elections in December 2012, thereafter in January 2013. After the SEC gave a revised schedule vide its 1 October letter, the state government shifted its stance again and fixed 10 February as the date of holding elections. When the Commission once again objected to holding elections in February, the government remained silent for some time. After nearly two months interval, on 11 December 2012 the state government asked the Commission to hold the elections in April 2013. Thus, after toying with the idea of holding elections first in December, then in January and after that in February, the state government came in line with the SEC, which had suggested end-April or early May as suitable times for holding elections. A lot of time was lost and relations between the Commission and the government soured, only to deal with the unreasonable and unpractical demand of the state government to hold elections within the month of January, 2012. The clash over the timing of the election was the first skirmish of a prolonged and bitter confrontation between the SEC and the state government that became a constant feature of the entire election process. Before we enter into the real hardcore issues of the confrontation, namely, phases of polling, deployment of

security forces for maintaining law and order and the Commissions control over the electoral machinery, let us explore another aspect of the issue of the timing of elections. It is quite obvious that the ruling party, the Trinamul Congress (TMC), wanted to hold the elections within December 2012 or January 2013. There was definitely a political reason that prompted the leadership of the TMC to insist on holding elections ahead of the due time. As the account given above shows, the administrative and legal reasons given by the SEC for not acceding to such a suggestion had no importance to the government. Even the argument that one would have to deny the right of new voters to vote in panchayat elections if the poll was to be organised within December or January did not cut much ice with the ruling party. (The new voters were to be included in the revised electoral roll that was scheduled to be finalised in mid-January, 2013. The SEC argued for holding elections on the basis of this revised roll, but the ruling party had little patience in giving consideration to such arguments). The SECs resistance to holding elections at a time considered appropriate by the leadership of the ruling party was not taken lightly. As later events show, the state government went on ignoring and humiliating the Commission at every step thereafter. There is another side of the episode that shows that the present ruling party cares little about the aspect of constitutional propriety. Clause (1) of Article 243E of the Constitution states that Every Panchayat, unless sooner dissolved under any law for the time being in force, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer. (emphasis added). This constitutional provision is also incorporated in clause (1) of sections 7, 96, and 141 of the West Bengal Panchayat Act, 1973. They stipulate that the members of a gram panchayat (GP), panchayat samiti (PS) or a zilla parishad (ZP) respectively (other than the ex-officio members in the cases of PS and ZP) shall hold office for a period of five years from the date of the first meeting of the GP or PS or ZP, as the case may be, in which chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of these bodies were elected. Therefore, normally, once elected every elected panchayat has the right to remain in office for five years. In terms of this

provision of law, the existing members of the panchayats were entitled to remain in office up to June in most cases or July in some other cases. Accordingly, if the elections were held in December or in January, then newly elected members would have to wait for a period of five or six months before they could take office. This would have created an embarrassing situation in the villages, where the old members would be exercising the powers of panchayats, while the newly elected members would remain powerless. There can be no doubt that this would have created unnecessary tension between two sets of elected representatives. But the ruling party was not perturbed. What perhaps mattered to them was the logic of political expediency and everything else was subordinate to that. Polling in one day or in phases? From the beginning, the SEC had attached great importance to the issue of maintaining law and order during the entire election process from the nomination stage to the stage of counting of votes, declaration of results, etc. The experiences of past elections and the perception about the current law and order situation and about the nature of political rivalry obtaining in the state all had prompted the Commission to be extremely cautious in the matter of providing adequate security to all the stakeholders of elections. According to the Commission, one of the steps necessary for maintaining peace during polling was to hold elections in phases, because even with the availability of limited number of security forces phasing would facilitate deployment of adequate forces during polling to keep close watch over sensitive polling booths. In its first letter to the state government issued on 11 April 2012 asking the latter to suggest tentative dates for the 8th panchayat elections in 2013, the Commission indicated its intention to hold elections in phases. As mentioned earlier, this letter of the Commission was replied to by the state government on 13 August 2012, after two reminders were sent. In its reply, the state government remained silent on the issue of phases. When the Commission responded to this letter on 16 August of 2012, it specifically mentioned, among other things, that it wanted

to hold elections in 4 phases. When the state government replied to this letter, it again chose to remain silent about the question of holding elections in phases. Ultimately, after further exchange of letters, the state government wrote to the Commission on 21 September, 2012 indicating therein, among other things, that the former wanted to hold elections on 28 January, 2012, implying thereby for the first time that the state government desired to hold the elections on a single day. Before proceeding further with the story, it is necessary to highlight an important aspect of the manner in which the state government chose to engage with the SEC. As we proceed with the narrative, it will be seen that the manner in which the state government chose to deal with the SEC was not only irrational and unconstitutional, but also arrogant and the entire imbroglio that followed resulted from this method of engagement with a constitutional body. One finds a glimpse of this in the sequence of events just described over the issue of phasing of elections. Between April and September, both the parties were in correspondence, apart from formal and informal meetings held between senior officials of the state government and the Election Commissioner or her officers. The state government clearly knew the views of the SEC on phasing. Even though the government was opposed to the idea of holding elections in several phases, it did not enter into argument with the Commission. It completely ignored the SEC, as if its views did not have any value. And then suddenly, after a lapse of about five months the government fixes the date of one-day polls and even while communicating its decision on the timing of the polls it did not care to explain as to why it was rejecting the Commissions firm views on holding the polls in four phases. Between 27 September and 5 October, there was again further exchange of letters, wherein the state government insisted on a one-day poll without giving justification for rejecting Commissions suggestion of a 4-day poll. In its letter dated 17 December, 2012, the Commission made a small adjustment and agreed to a three-phase poll instead of a four-phase one. By January 2013, the state government also relented and accepted the suggestion that the election might be held in April 2013, but insisted once again on a one-day poll. Besides, for the first time

10

they gave a reason for opting for the one-day poll. Citing a recommendation of the Director General Police (DGP), West Bengal, the government indicated that a one-day poll would be advantageous for maintaining peace during the election process because it would act as a deterrent to the free movement of antisocial elements from one place to another during polling. The Commission countered this argument by emphasising the fact that violence-free elections demanded deployment of adequate security forces and it was extremely difficult to mobilise such number of armed forces as were required to cover all the polling booths, if elections had to be held on one day. Besides, it was pointed out that it would be difficult to give focused attention to smaller areas if polling took place in all the districts on the same day. In a letter dated 12 February 2013, the state government was found to be shifting from its rigid stance of holding elections on a single day and agreed to hold elections over two days - on 20 and 22 April, 2013. The basis of this decision was not disclosed. No reason was given as to why it rejected the Commissions suggestions for three-day polls and settled for two-day polls. That this decision was arbitrary in nature can be proved from two facts. First, even though the state government expressed the desire to hold elections in two days, the distribution of districts for holding polls, as suggested by them, was devoid of any kind of administrative logic. For, the state government decided initially that polling of 14 districts would be held on the first day and that of the remaining three districts (where incidentally Congress had a strong base and TMC had comparatively much lesser influence) on the second day. The logic of such lopsided distribution of districts for polling was hard to understand. Not only this, the gap that was kept between two days of polling suggested by the government was only two days. It may be recalled that the main argument of SEC to hold elections in several phases was to ensure that the armed police forces that would be available for holding peaceful elections could be deployed properly for all the polling booths. This objective could not be served by holding elections in 14 districts in one day and the rest three smaller districts on another day. Besides, the gap of only two days between two fixed dates of

11

elections was too small to facilitate movement of police forces from one place to another. In fact, the state government wanted to show that it was trying to accommodate the Commissions viewpoints, but the Commission was taking a rigid stance. In reality the state government did not budge from its original stand and its unilateral decision to hold the elections of most of the districts in one day and a few districts on the other day was not going to serve the purpose for which SEC was insisting on elections initially in 4 phases and then in 3 phases. In sum, the reasons for rejecting the Commissions desire to conduct polling in 3 or 4 phases in the interest of free, fair and peaceful elections, had never been discussed by the government with the Commission. When it suddenly opted for two-day polls, the logic behind it was difficult to understand by anybody. For a month or more during February-March 2013, the SEC tried to convince the state government to hold elections in at least three phases with at least three days gap between the phases to facilitate hassle-free movement of police forces from one area to another. The State government did not pay any heed to the pleadings of the Commission, but on 22 March 2013 issued a formal notification under section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act 2003 fixing the dates of election on 26 and 30 April 2013. Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003 provides, inter alia, that the State Government shall, in consultation with the Commission, by notification, appoint the date or dates and hour or hours of poll for any election or by-election. Similar provision exists in Section 8 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994. According to the state government the word consultation does not mean consent and, hence, the above provisions of the state laws have given it absolute power in the matter of fixation of dates of elections even, if necessary, by overruling the views of the SEC on the same and without giving reasons for rejecting the views of the Commission. The state government used this provision to issue notification fixing dates of election unilaterally knowing fully well that the Commission did not agree to the same. There was no attempt on the part of the state government to reach consensus through more effective consultation.

12

It was difficult for the SEC to take follow up actions for conducting elections without contesting the notification issued by the state government under section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act. The SEC raised objections and sought a review of the notification and several other matters connected to it under section 43(2) of the Panchayat Elections Act which states, inter alia, When the Commission, at any time after the issue of the notification under section 42, is of the opinion that it is not possible to hold election on the date or dates so notified by the State Government under the said section for reasons which it considers sufficient and justified, the Commission shall refer the matter to the State Government. The main plank of the Commissions plea to alter the notification issued by the state government, as conveyed in its letter to the state government dated 25 March 2013, was as follows. It is ... beyond the comprehension of the Commission how the State Government decided on the number of phases when the State Government is only empowered under the relevant provisions of the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003 to decide the dates and the hours of poll. This process cannot be confused with the number of phases the elections are required to be held, as this is decided by the State Election Commission which has the sole responsibility for conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections. This is a prerogative of the State Election Commission and comes under the constitutional mandate of superintendence, direction and control of the conduct of Panchayat Elections. The phasing of the elections and tagging of the districts therefore shall have to be decided by the State Election Commission. (emphasis added). The State Government replied to the Commissions letter by asserting that phasing of elections (was) essentially an integral part of the process of fixing of dates of election and, as such, the state government had the prerogative to determine the phases of the election. However, the State Government also wanted to give due regard to some of the concerns expressed by the

13

Commission and, hence, issued another order cancelling the previous order in so far as that order referred to the schedule of tagging of districts to a particular date for the purpose of holding election. Under the revised schedule elections to 11 districts would be held on one day and 6 districts on another day. This kind of argument put forward by the state government about the phasing of the polls an issue which is intimately linked to the larger issue of holding free and fair elections and that too after the SEC had communicated its views in detail to the former pushed the Commission to the wall. It invoked the plenary powers given to it under Article 243K of the Constitution. When even that did not work, the SEC had no other alternative but to go to Court. But it should not be construed that it is only because of its conflict with the state government on the phasing of elections and the unilateral decision of the state government to issue notification under section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act that the Commission went to Court. There were other issues as well. Most important among them was the issue of deployment of adequate security forces during elections. There was also the issue of obtaining the services of Observers. We shall try to look at these issues of conflict in the next two sub-sections. Deployment of security forces From the beginning, the SEC had tried to impress upon the government that it was necessary to deploy adequate police forces, particularly central paramilitary force (CPMF), during the entire election process. In its letter dated 27 September 2012 to the state government, the Commission stated that it had reviewed the law and order problem that had cropped up during the 2008 panchayat elections and had assessed the prevailing ground realities and on the basis of such exercise it had come to firm conclusion that deployment of central paramilitary forces in adequate numbers was absolutely essential, in addition to the state police force, for conducting the elections in a peaceful and fair manner. In the said letter, the Commission gave an estimate of the force that would be required and the purpose for which it would be deployed. The relevant portion of this letter is reproduced below.

14

Apart from protecting the polling stations, which number around 62,000 and guarding of strong rooms and counting centres, the CPMF will also be required for conducting flag marches, point patrolling and other confidence building measures. Their services will further be required for area domination in the pre-poll period. In view of the above requirements, the Commission will require at least 800 companies of the CPMF in the 17 districts going for the Panchayat polls, in phases. They shall be placed under the control of the Commission, and their deployment plan shall be drawn up by this Commission in consultation with the concerned authorities and the State Level Force Coordinator, (if any) appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. You are further requested to ensure that 300 companies of the CPMF are available during the nomination phases of the elections. You are, therefore, requested to take up the matter with the concerned authorities in the Ministry of Home Affairs and keep this Commission informed about the developments in this regard. The above letter of the Commission remained unanswered till late December 2012, even though the Commission wrote another letter to the state government on 17 December reiterating its view that deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces in adequate numbers (was) absolutely essential in addition to the State Police Force for conducting the elections in a peaceful, free and fair manner. Since the letters remained answered for a long time, it is obvious that the state government did not care to take notice of the Commissions request for arranging deployment of CPMF during the electoral process. But it was during this period, as indicated earlier, that the state government was insisting on holding elections first in the month of December and then in the month of January or February. It was also pleading for one-day poll and in support of it sent a note of the Director General of Police to the SEC. The Commission had pointed out in its letter dated 24 January that there were not only many infirmities in the argument that one-day poll would ensure peaceful election by putting a barrier upon free movement

15

of wrong-doers, it would in practice create severe constraint for ensuring focused and intensive security arrangements for relatively smaller areas. What is more, despite the Commissions repeated requests, the state government was not coming up with a definite plan on deployment of security forces during the elections, including requisitioning of CPMF. The Commission was distressed to note a kind of casual attitude of the government on the very important issue of making police forces available during elections. In its letter to the Commission, the state government endorsed the view of DG Police when he said that the government would attempt to provide armed coverage to as many premises (as distinguished from the booth) as possible on additional availability of forces. The Commission rightly retorted by emphasising that any arrangement for maintenance of law and order for such a sensitive and complicated election like the Panchayat general elections cannot and should not be based on assumptions and probabilities but on the concrete number of forces available with the State Government. In the same letter the Commission once again made it clear that it wants provision of armed security personnel in each polling station, not only in individual premises within each of which there may be many polling stations. Besides, mere security of polling station is not enough. There would be almost 6000 sectors which required to be manned by security personnel. In addition, strike forces, forces for area domination in the run up to the elections and for confidence building of the voters will be required. All the District Magistrates have in various meetings with the Commission stressed that they need to have sufficient security forces in place from before the nomination stage in order to ensure proper maintenance of law and order. On the basis of feedback received from the senior officials of state government and district officers, the Commission felt that the State Government did not have adequate police forces to provide armed security for each polling station in the event of a single day election. That was the reason why it was advocating phased elections as well as deployment of CPMF in addition to the states police force. The letter of the Commission dated 24 January in which the above views were communicated evoked a rather arrogant reply

16

from the State Government on 12 February that reiterated its earlier position regarding phasing and deployment of forces. On phasing, however, it made a small concession by agreeing to hold elections on two days instead of one day. But on deployment of forces, it remained completely silent about requisitioning the CPMF from the central government and did not provide facts and figures indicating the number of armed personnel to be deployed. Instead it went so far as to say that there would be no dearth of police, NVF, Home Guard, Civic Police Volunteers and other personnel to ensure law and order in the State. The last line indicates clearly that the state government was treating the Commissions suggestion regarding deployment of armed personnel, including CPMF, with utter contempt. In complete disregard to Commissions strict view that para police forces like NVF, Home guards, civic police volunteers etc are not to be deployed for maintaining law and order during elections, the state government was repeating the suggestion. Moreover, it was stated at the end of the letter that the views conveyed through it were considered at the highest level of the police and civil administration, which, in the prevailing political environment of the state, might mean that these views also represented the views of the chief minister. What is the significance of this line? Is it a way to impress upon the Commission the importance of the views conveyed through the letter? Or was it a veiled threat to the Commission asking it not to go too far with the issues of multi-phase election or that of engagement of CPMF in the elections? The Commission, however, refused to be impressed or overawed by the state governments stance. In a quick reply given to the Government on 19 February, 2013 it stated, among other things, that it reiterates its stand for holding the elections in at least three phases, with law and order, to be managed by a joint strength of CPMF and State Police force right from the nomination stage. The above letter was followed by another letter on 26 February in which the Commission wanted to know from the state government whether the State Government (had) since moved the Central Government requisitioning for the 800 Companies of CPMF as requested by the Commission.

17

Even though some more letters were exchanged between the SEC and the Government, the latter never did furnish its plan of deployment of security forces, or intimate the number of regular police personnel (armed or non-armed, but excluding personnel like NVF, Home guard, volunteers, etc.) The government also remained silent on the question of requisitioning of CPMF. The last request in this regard was made by the Commission in its letter to the state government on 22 March, extracts from which are given below. this Commission has not yet been provided with a concrete report detailing the actual availability of Police Forces in West BengalThe State Government has also not intimated whether arrangements have been made for deployment of 800 Companies of Paramilitary Forces for the ensuing Panchayat Elections though repeatedly requested for such information. However, in its interface with the District Magistrates and District Police authorities on 16.03.2013, the Commission has come to find that actual availability of State Police Forces in the districts is woefully inadequate for conducting the Polls even in three phases. It may also be mentioned that the State Government has only reiterated its assurances, for providing security forces, as necessary, subject to availability of such forces. In these circumstances, I would once again request you to look into the matter and arrange for providing a detailed report on the above matter including arrangements made for deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces urgently. Obviously no detailed report as sought by the Commission came from the government and all the points raised above had to be settled ultimately, as we shall see later, by the Supreme Court of India. Dispute over placing the services of observers Under Section 134 of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act, the state government is obliged to provide the services of its

18

officers for appointment as Observers by the Commission. The Observers are supposed to act as the eyes and ears of the Commission throughout the electoral process from the stage of nomination to the stage of counting. The Commission had requisitioned the services of 400 officers of certain seniority to be appointed as observers. A list of 266 officers was sent by the state government, but the balance names of 134 officers never came either before the notification under section 42 fixing the dates of poll was issued by the state government or even thereafter till the end of March. The State government knew very well that that nomination process would start soon after the order under section 42 was issued and observers had a duty to observe the nomination process. Yet it did not care to send all the names of observers as per the Commissions request. This is another glaring instance of shabby treatment extended to the Commission by the state government. The State Election Commission goes to the Court The chronicle of the dispute between the government and the SEC as recorded in the foregoing sub-sections reveals clearly the whimsical and casual manner in which the present regime of West Bengal engaged with a constitutional authority. Clearly the state government was not cooperating with the SEC in the matter of holding elections in the manner desired by the SEC. From the beginning the SEC had been insisting on three prerequisites for holding elections in a free and fair manner: to conduct the election in three or more phases, to deploy paramilitary forces of the central government along with the states own police force and to provide the services of about 400 officers of certain seniority as observers. The state government failed to comply with all of these requirements. Several letters written to the state government from time to time on such issues either remained unanswered or were answered cursorily. On the matter of dates of elections, it stuck to its old decision of holding the same firstly on a single day and secondly on two days. On deployment of paramilitary forces and other matters of security arrangement from the time of submission of nomination to the declaration of results as demanded by the

19

SEC, the state government refused to requisition central paramilitary forces and chose not to enter into any discussion with the SEC as regards details of security arrangements during the electoral process, implying thereby that law and order was the responsibility of the state government and it was not necessary for the Commission to bother about it. Besides, the state government did not send the names of an adequate number of officers to be appointed as election observers in due time to the SEC. When consultation with the Commission on several issues as indicated above remained inconclusive, the state government suddenly announced the dates of elections (April 26 and 30) arbitrarily in a notification issued under section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act. As the foregoing paragraphs show, the Commission tried to convince the government with strong arguments on all the contentious issues like multi-phase election, deployment of forces, including deployment of CPMF, appointment of observers in right time, etc. Having failed to make its points understood by the state government, the SEC moved the High Court of Kolkata on 1 April 2013. There were four major points in SECs prayer before the Court. First, the announcement of dates of election through notification under section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act was done unilaterally and arbitrarily by the state government without proper consultation with the Commission and, as such, that notification should be withdrawn. Besides, the Commission has plenary powers under Article 243K (1) of the Constitution to determine the number of phases in which elections are to be held and to determine the specific phases on which particular districts or constituencies of certain districts would go to the polls. Since Section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act, 2003 and Section 8 of the West Bengal SEC Act stand in the way of exercising such powers by the Commission in the event of difference of opinion between the two, the provisions contained in these sections should be declared unconstitutional. Second, the central paramilitary forces were needed for area domination, patrolling, guarding of sensitive areas, poll booths and poll premises to instil confidence among the people and fear in the minds of miscreants. Hence the state government

20

should be given direction to provide for the same to enable the Commission to conduct panchayat polls in a free and fair manner. Third, directions should be given to the state government to provide the services of the required number of such categories of officers as are needed by the Commission for appointment as poll observers. Lastly, directions should be given to the state government to provide necessary funds to the Commission in order to enable it to conduct elections. It was pointed out by the Commission that out of a sum of Rupees 200 crores demanded by the Commission, a sum of only Rupees 100 had been provided to it. Apparent and not-so-apparent causes of the dispute The dispute between the SEC and the Government of West Bengal, as described in the present study, is somewhat different in nature than similar disputes elsewhere. It was not about reservation or delimitation of constituencies, preparation of electoral rolls, holding of elections after the expiry of the term of the existing panchayats, etc. On the part of the state government, it was really about challenging the pivotal role of SEC in conducting panchayat elections. On the part of the SEC it was about discharging its constitutional duty to hold elections in a free, fair and peaceful manner and to use, if necessary, its constitutional authority in order to discharge its constitutional duty. In West Bengal, the political parties, as mentioned earlier, are allowed to participate in panchayat elections with their respective party symbols in all the three tiers. Though a local body election, it generates sufficient political heat, as panchayat election results are considered to be indicators of the prospects of the respective political parties in the Assembly or parliamentary elections that might be held in future. Accordingly, this election was of crucial importance to all the political parties, but the stake of TMC was much more, since it was eager to prove its political supremacy in the countryside before the impending parliamentary elections. It was therefore not very surprising, given the style of functioning of the party that it

21

would like to ensure that the SEC conducts elections in a manner that suits its interest. The dispute arose when the SEC refused to oblige the ruling party and tried to discharge the constitutional mandate of holding elections in a free and fair manner. The government, as has been noted, refused to appreciate the plenary powers given by the Constitution to the Commission under Article 243K in respect of conduct of panchayat elections. This was evident from the way in which the state government interpreted Section 42 of the states Panchayast Election Act, the manner in which it turned down the Commissions request to deploy central paramilitary forces and the casual nature of responses it made to the Commissions request for providing various kinds of support, such as staff and funds. By taking advantage of some doubtful provisions of the states Panchayat Election Act, the state government tried to force the Commission to come to terms. The State Election Commissioner refused to oblige the state government at the expense of her constitutional duty and responsibility. With her back to the wall, the Commissioner decided to go to the Court. Control over Election Machinery: An Area of Conflict that Remained Unresolved On 22nd May 2013, the SEC had issued an order stipulating that the officials appointed in the statutory positions for conducting panchayat elections, such as District Panchayat Election Officer, Returning Officers, Presiding officers, polling officers and other officials including the Police officers appointed for the conduct of panchayat elections should come under the control and discipline of the SEC during the entire process of elections beginning from the dates of notifications calling for elections to the dates of declaration of results. A copy of this order may be seen at Appendix B1. The above order of the Commission was issued following the model laid down in Section 28A of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, which is reproduced in the following box.

22

28A. Returning officer, presiding officer, etc., deemed to be on deputation to Election Commission. The returning officer, assistant returning officer, presiding officer, polling officer, and any other officer appointed under this Part, and any police officer designated for the time being by the State Government, for the conduct of any election shall be deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission for the period commencing on and from the date of the notification calling for such election and ending with the date of declaration of the results of such election and accordingly, such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the Election Commission. Unfortunately such provision does not exist in the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act. Hence while issuing the order, the Commission invoked the plenary powers given to it under Article 243K (1) of the Constitution read with the provision of section 4(1), of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994, which is a verbatim repetition of the constitutional provisions. Very soon a reply came from the Chief Secretary of the Government of West Bengal. This letter of the Chief Secretary is reproduced in Appendix B2. It states first that no such order has been passed in previous panchayat elections by any State Election Commission since its inception. It also states that the SEC has no legal power to issue such order. Accordingly the concerned officials of the state government are asked not to follow the Commissions order and the Commission was requested to rescind the order. This letter of the Chief Secretary is yet another instance of arbitrariness and arrogance on the part of the state government in its engagement with the SEC. Before taking unilateral decision to ask the state government officials not to follow the concerned order of the SEC, the state government should have been careful about the scope of the plenary powers of the Commission. In Mohinder Singh Gill Vs the Chief Election Commissioner (AIR 1978 SC 851), the Supreme Court observed as follows:

23

(a) The Constitution contemplates a free and fair election and vests comprehensive responsibilities of superintendence, direction and control of the conduct of elections in the Election Commission. This responsibility may cover powers, duties and functions of many sorts, administrative or other, depending on the circumstances. (b) Two limitations at least are laid on its plenary character in the exercise thereof. Firstly, when Parliament or any State Legislature has made valid law relating to or in connection with elections, the Commission, shall act in conformity with, not in violation of, such provisions but where such law is silent Article 324 is a reservoir of power to act for the avowed purpose of, not divorced from, pushing forward a free and fair election with expedition. (emphasis added). It is clear from the above judgement that the powers and obligations of the Election Commissions (including State Election Commissions) to ensure proper election which is free and fair, and to maintain a proper atmosphere conducive to such an election, are derived from the Constitution of India (Article 324(1) in the case of Election Commission of India and Article 243K (1) in the case of SEC). Limitation on such power may be laid if there is a valid law in connection with election. But where the law is silent on some point, the Commission can draw from its plenary power given by the Constitution for the purpose of pushing forward a free and fair election with expedition. In the instant case the Panchayat Election Act, unlike the Representation of Peoples Act (RP Act), is silent on the point of control over the staff of the election machinery. Hence the SEC was perfectly within its power to issue an order in line with section 28A of the RP Act by invoking its powers under Article 243K of the Constitution, which was also endorsed by Section 4(1) of the West Bengal Election Commission Act. The Chief Secretarys assertion that the Commissions order was unlawful was in violation of the position of law as enunciated in the aforesaid judgement of the Supreme Court.

24

Probably because some of the points already raised by the SEC in the Court still remained unresolved, this particular point of dispute was not taken to the Court for adjudication. But in a letter written by its Secretary (Appendix B3), the Commission pointed out that it was not going to rescind the order as requested by the Chief Secretary, as it had competence to issue such order. Thus the order of the Commission remained, but it was not obeyed by the persons for whom it was meant. This is one more instance of the conscious and consistent strategy adopted by the state government to keep the Election Commission as a weak body incapable of exercising effective control over the election process.

25

JUDICIARY INTERVENES

est Bengals panchayat elections of 2013 was one of those rare occasions when the judiciary acted not only as judge for settling a dispute and interpreting law and constitution, but also acted or was forced to act as an umpire and ultimately as executive, since two constitutional authorities could not work in unison to discharge a constitutional task, namely, the holding of elections. The background of the SECs decision to go to Court has already been described. There were four distinct prayers against which specific directions and decisions of the High Court were sought. At the root of all the four major points of contention there was one fundamental constitutional issue that needed to be decided: on whom the Constitution has conferred the full responsibility and authority for conducting panchayat elections and matters relating thereto and how far such does such authority extend? First stage: the single-bench of Calcutta High Court The single-bench judge of Calcutta High Court to whom a writ petition6 was filed by the SEC on April 1 2013, while delivering his judgement on 10 May 2013 after hearing the arguments of both the parties for 12 days, came to the conclusion that the SEC had a pivotal role to play in respect of conduct of election right from pre-nomination stage till declaration, followed by publication of results. The judgement noted that the phrase conduct of elections and the role of SEC in conduct of elections for panchayats have their genesis in Article 243K of the Constitution. It was also observed that the role of SEC in the conduct of panchayat elections as also in preparation of electoral rolls, as envisaged in the Constitution, has also been incorporated
6

West Bengal State Election Commission Versus State of West Bengal and others, WP No 315 of 2013, in the bench of Mr Justice Biswanath Somadder, High Court in Calcutta

26

in Section 4 of West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994. Since SEC West Bengal draws its power from the Constitution and the aforesaid SEC Act, whatever restrictions are put on the Commission by the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act or other Acts in respect of conduct of elections (or preparation of electoral roll) can in no way be inconsistent with the provisions of Article 243K. In forming its views on the scope, power and the role of the SEC, the High Court also relied on certain landmark judgements of the Supreme Court, which clarified that in the matter of conducting panchayat elections, the SEC had a pivotal role to play and the role of the state government in the same was to abide by the directions of the Commission in the same manner in which it follows the Election Commission of India during the elections for Parliament and State Legislatures. The High Court also thought that the following observations made by the Supreme Court in Kishansingh Tomars case 7 (were) of significance in the facts of the instant case. From a reading of the said provisions8 it is clear that the power of the State Election Commission in respect of conduct of elections is no less than that of the Election Commission of India in their respective domains. These powers are, of course, subject to the law made by Parliament or by the State Legislatures, provided the same do not encroach upon the plenary powers of the said Election Commissions. The State Election Commissions are to function independent of the State Governments concerned in the matter of their powers of superintendence, direction and control of all elections and preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to the panchayats and municipalities.

Kishansingh Tomar Vs Municipal Corporation of the city of Ahmedabad and others, (2006) 8 Supreme Court cases 352. 8 The Court was referring to Article 243K and Article 324
7

27

Article 243-K (3) also recognises the independent status of the State Election Commission. It states that upon a request made in that behalf the Governor shall make available to the State Election Commission such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the State Election Commission by clause (1). It is accordingly to be noted that in the matter of the conduct of elections, the Government concerned shall have to render full assistance and cooperation to the State Election Commission and respect the latters assessment of the needs in order to ensure that free and fair elections are conducted. Also, for the independent and effective functioning of the State Election Commission, where it feels that it is not receiving the cooperation of the State Government concerned in discharging its constitutional obligation of holding the elections to the panchayats or municipalities within the time mandated in the Constitution, it will be open to the State Election Commission to approach the High Courts, in the first instance, and thereafter the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus or such other appropriate writ directing the State Government concerned to provide all necessary cooperation and assistance to the State Election Commission to enable the latter to fulfil the constitutional mandate. (emphasis added). The above judgement of the Supreme Court delivered in 2006 clearly establishes the supremacy of SEC in the matter of holding panchayat (and municipal) elections and shows that SECs powers are identical with those of the Election Commission of India (ECI) in their respective areas. It also points out that the state governments role is to render full assistance and cooperation to the State Election Commission and respect the latters assessment of needs in order to ensure free and fair elections.

28

The single-bench judgement in respect of SEC West Bengals case also referred to some other landmark cases of Supreme Court that defined ECIs powers with regard to certain issues, implying thereby that the same principles would apply in the case of SECs also in defining their powers on similar issues. That the Election Commission has plenary powers, which cannot be taken away by any law framed by the legislature, was established by the opinion given by the Supreme Court in 2002 on Presidential Reference under Article 143 (1) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court observed: Parliament is empowered to frame law as regards conduct of elections, but conducting elections is the sole responsibility of the Election Commission. As a matter of law, the plenary powers of the Election Commission cannot be taken away by law framed by Parliament. If Parliament makes any such law, it would be repugnant to Article 324. (emphasis added). In the same Presidential Reference, the Supreme Court had also observed: So far as the framing of the schedule or calendar for election of the Legislative Assembly is concerned, the same is in the exclusive domain of the Election Commission, which is not subject to any law framed by Parliament. (emphasis added). The single bench judgement of the Calcutta High Court also referred to the case of Election Commission of India versus the State of Tamil Nadu and others (1995) in which the Supreme Court dealt with the subject of the power of the Election Commission to assess the law and order situation and issue directions for deployment of adequate paramilitary and security forces in the constituencies going to the polls. The Supreme Court also gave its views on a situation where the state government and the Commission cannot come to a consensus, because they have irreconcilable viewpoints. On the first two issues, the Supreme Court observed that the assessment of the Election Commission as to the state of law and order and the nature and adequacy of the machinery to deal with situations so as to ensure free and fair elections must, prima facie, prevail. On the third question, the apex Court observed that there must be a mechanism to resolve the dispute, if there (were) mutually irreconcilable viewpoints or because of limited resources, the Commissions directions could not be carried out. Situation of this kind, the

29

Court observed, should be resolved by mutual discussion and should not be blown up into public confrontations. Another case referred to in the judgement is the case of Dalitha Sangharsha Samiti in which the Supreme Court had directed the Chief Secretary of Karnataka and all other officers of the state to comply with the directions given by the State Election Commission, Karnataka, in the matter of holding elections to local bodies and extend full cooperation to it. One more important case referred to in the Calcutta High Court judgement is Prem Lal Patel versus the State of Uttar Pradesh in which the Allahabad High Court observed: By means of the substitution of clause (3), in Section 12BB of the U.P. Panchayat Raj Act, the State Government has taken upon itself, the task of issuing notification for the election appointing date or dates for the general election or by-election of the Pradhan or UpPradhan, or members of the Gram Panchayat with the consultation of Election Commissioner. The edict of Article 243K, is unambiguous and clear. All such powers are vested to the State Election Commissioner. The State Government cannot enact a law, which is inconsistent with any provisions of the Constitution much less Article 243K, which encroaches upon the field which is occupied by the State Election Commissioner. These and other judgements on the subject clearly establish the supremacy of the SEC in the matter of local body elections. The views expressed and directions given by the single-bench of the Calcutta High Court in SEC West Bengals case was based on such constitutional position of SEC as defined under article 243K and 243 ZA of the Constitution. The judgement of the SEC West Bengal case also explained the rationale behind the creation of constitutional bodies with full power of superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls for and conduct of elections to the state or central legislature and the rural and urban local bodies. It was pointed out in the judgement that maintenance of absolute neutrality during election process was non-negotiable in

30

democracy. This may not be ensured if the state government, which is headed by the political executives who represent one political party or a coalition of multiple political parties having majority in the legislature, remains in charge. The sole object was to achieve total neutrality in respect of conduct of elections, which is possible only through (an) apolitical and neutral constitutional body that is the Commission. In the instant case the major issue was about the correct interpretation of Section 42 of the West Bengal Panchayat Election Act, which states that The State Government shall, in consultation with the Commission, by notification, appoint the date or dates and hour or hours of poll for any election or byelection. According to the judgement, this section needs to be interpreted first in the backdrop of the scheme of the entire Act and second, in respect of its compatibility with Article 243K of the Constitution. Citing the instances of various sections of the Act, the judgement shows that the entire scheme of the Act of which section 42 is a part, highlights and emphasizes the pivotal role of the Commission in respect of the Panchayat election process. It also finds that the scheme of the Act and by implication section 42 also, is compatible with the article 243K of the Constitution. It has also been observed that while it is not necessary that consultation should culminate in an agreement between the parties, one has to find out its true scope, purport and effect in the backdrop of its use in section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act. And the backdrop, as has been noted before, refers to the statutorily defined role of SEC as supreme authority in matters relating to the conduct of elections to the local bodies, including preparation of electoral rolls. Accordingly, the state governments power to issue notification specifying the date or dates of election, the phase or phases of polling and tagging districts/areas to each individual phase for the purpose of polling cannot be absolute. It cannot issue notification unilaterally without entering into effective and meaningful consultation with the Commission. During the consultation process as also afterwards the state government has to take into consideration the fact that it cannot in any way diminish the pivotal role of the SEC in conducting panchayat elections, because the provisions of Article 243K of the Constitution give such role

31

to the SEC and the states Panchayat Election Act endorses the same in its various provisions. Considering the above, the Court gave the following directions on the four issues raised by the SEC in its writ petition, so that elections could be held before the terms of the sitting panchayat members expired in June/ July 2013.

The Panchayat election shall be held in three phases. District-wise grouping and actual dates shall, however, be communicated by the Commission to the State Government The Commission, while intimating the State Government the three dates of election and district-wise grouping, shall also provide a revised time-table, which will ensure holding of Panchayat elections before the present terms of the elected bodies expire. So far as security personnel are concerned, the shortfall (as stated in) the writ petition, is required to be fully compensated by the State Government by bringing in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) as well as security personnel from other States to the satisfaction of the Commission. The State should ensure that adequate armed police personnel are available for deployment to the satisfaction of the Commission, from the stage of nomination itself. The exact detail should be made known to the Commission (emphasis added). The State shall provide the balance names of Observers, as per Commissions request

It will be seen from the judgment that the Court tried to achieve twin objectives through the judgement: first, to establish the supremacy of the office of SEC in the matter of local body elections, contrary to the stance taken by the state government in its dealings with the former, and second, to ensure that the panchayat elections are duly held before the terms of the existing elected representatives expire. It rejected the prayer of SEC to declare the section 42 of the states Panchayat Election Act ultra vires, but observed that the consultative process before issuing the order under that section was mandatory, consultation had

32

to be effective and meaningful and while taking a decision for issuing notification under section 42, the state government should not lose sight of the fact that the SEC had a pivotal role to play in fixing the dates and determining phasing of polling also, as also in other matters concerning the conduct of panchayat elections. This is another way of saying that while exercising its powers under section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act, the state government should preferably try to achieve a consensus and, in any case, should not override the suggestion of the SEC unless it appeared to be arbitrary and without any reason. Second Stage: Division bench of Calcutta High Court The judgement of the single bench was delivered on 10 May 2013. On 12 May, the state government filed an appeal against the judgement before the Division bench of the High Court consisting of Chief Justice and another judge. Strange things happened in this Court that baffled not only the Commission but also independent observers. Without providing the opportunity to the parties to state their cases fully, the Court suddenly issued an order on 14 May 2013 just two days after the filing of the appeal petition. This order had serious infirmities and instead of bringing clarity, it added more confusion to the imbroglio over the conduct of panchayat elections. Firstly, the order claimed that the same was being issued with the consent of both the parties. Such claim of the Court was vehemently refuted by the Commissions advocate who filed a revision petition to the Court to drop the word consent from its order on the ground that no such consent was given by him nor was he instructed to do so by his client, namely the SEC. Ultimately the Court had to concede the point raised on behalf of the SEC. This cleared the way for the Commission to move the Supreme Court for a verdict on the unresolved constitutional issues. Secondly, it was very difficult to understand the logic of the order. It was issued in the context of the appeal filed by the state against the verdict of the single bench. The appeal Court did not opt for going into the merits of the case, that is, the verdict

33

of the single bench, and the issues (dealt with in the singlebench judgement) were kept open to be agitated in appropriate proceedings. This means that the division bench neither set aside the judgement of the single bench nor upheld the same or gave any indication as to whether it would take up points raised in the appeal petition for consideration later. This created a lot of confusion in respect of some important legal issues raised by the SEC in the matter of conducting panchayat elections. What the division bench did was to issue an order, so that elections could be held without further delay. The orders gave following instructions to the SEC and the state government on two of the most contentious issues.

The polls will be held in three phases. The State Government will fix the dates in consultation with SEC. Elections are to be completed before 15 July 2013. (This ended the resistance of the state government to the SECs proposal to hold election in phases, the minimum being 3 phases.) With respect to the deployment of armed police personnel and other polling personnel in the polling booths, the Court gave specific instructions after classifying areas into different categories, such as, highly sensitive areas, sensitive areas, less sensitive areas and normal areas. With regard to other arrangements on deployment of forces, the Court ordered that the norms of 2008 (would) be followed.

The order was not at all satisfactory for the SEC, as the definitive pronouncement of the single-bench judgement establishing the supremacy of the Commission in the matter of conducting local body elections was neither endorsed nor rejected by the division bench. The instructions on security arrangements were an improvement over what the state government was bent upon doing, but it was far from the kind of arrangement that the SEC had envisaged. Vagueness about requisitioning the central police forces or police forces from outside the state was particularly worrisome.

34

Despite this, the SEC went ahead with preparation of elections and issued its statutory notification on 27 May 2013, after the state government had issued a fresh notification under section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act on 17 May announcing the dates of elections on 2, 6 and 9 July after consultation with the SEC. Thus the long-awaited electoral process got started. Fresh trouble begins Immediately after the state government issued its notification fixing the dates of the elections in different districts, all the opposition parties, including Congress, BJP and the Left, started complaining about lack of security of their candidates and workers, because of the terror created by the ruling party activists resorting to hooliganism, criminal intimidation, physical assault, arson, etc. The complaints started intensifying after the dates of submission of nominations and withdrawal and scrutiny of nomination papers were announced by the SEC in its notification dated 27 May, 2013. SECs complaints against the violation of Court order Anticipating that maintenance of a peaceful atmosphere during the entire period of the election process would be a challenging task, the SEC had been insisting on a definite plan and policy on the deployment of security personnel for the entire election period from the nomination stage to the counting stage. The division bench had given certain specific directions to the state government on this. The SEC noticed that even on the face of the Courts directives, the state government was going its own way and was not caring to let the Commission know what they really wanted to do. The Commissions queries in this regard evoked only vague answers from the state government. From early June 2013 to the closing part of June, the SEC had been knocking on the doors of the High Court with a prayer for the Courts intervention in ensuring that the state government actually deployed security forces as per directives given by the Court itself. Till 24 June, when only a week was left before the first date of election, the SEC could not even know the size of

35

forces available with the state, how many police forces were proposed to be brought from the central government or other sources and what concrete arrangements were being made to bring additional forces from outside the state. In the meanwhile, the nomination phase was over with large number of opposition candidates failing to submit nomination papers. The campaign phase that followed was full with complaints being heard from all the opposition candidates about complete absence of a social and political environment conducive for free and fair polls. The SEC was a silent spectator to these complaints. It wanted to alter the situation through judicial interventions, but various orders issued or observations made by the division bench between the period 3 June and 24 June would show that nothing could motivate the state government to take actions as per demands made by the SEC. On June 3, when the Division bench was considering the SECs petition complaining that necessary steps were yet to be taken to ensure deployment of adequate security forces for the purpose of filing nominations and confidence building, the Advocate General informed that the state (was) going to provide adequate security including the police coverage and adequate armed protection for the purpose of (filing) nomination (papers). The Court was apparently satisfied with this reply and discharged its responsibility by simply asking the state government once again to provide for adequate police protection and armed police coverage to the candidates, so that nobody (was) deprived of filing nomination by force. In the hearing of 4 June also, the Advocate General claimed that the state government was complying with the Courts order in its letter and spirit. It was also assured that the state was going to comply with the suggestion of SEC on requirement of forces as conveyed in its letter dated 22.5.2013. All the assurances given in the court later proved to be paper assurances and no concrete step was taken by the state government to deploy adequate forces. The counsels of the state government seemed to be hiding the state governments real intention not to deploy forces according to the instructions of the division bench. Even in the course of another hearing on 19 June (that is only 12 days before the commencement of polling),

36

the state government announced in a casual manner that it had written to the central government for making the requisite forces available. In the hearing on 24 June, the advocate appearing on behalf of the central government could not assure whether such forces would be available from the central government. Hardly seven or eight days were left before the first phase of the elections was due to commence, but it was not clear to the Commission whether forces would be deployed as per the directions given by the Division Bench in its 14 May order. In other words, the state government seemed to have little concern for implementing the Court order in respect of deployment of security forces. The High Court also seemed to have failed to take such effective steps as were necessary to ensure that its own orders were implemented. Final Stage: The Supreme Court Probably after realising that effective orders enforcing the state government to deploy adequate forces might not be available from the Calcutta High Court, the Commission filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court on 26 June, 2013. The Supreme Court acted with great alacrity and passed an order on 28 June after hearing all the parties. The order was binding upon the SEC, state government and the central government. The substantive part of the order was as follows:

Elections would not be held as per the previous schedule of three-phase elections between 2nd July and 9th July. The apex Court ordered that elections would be held in five phases on 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25 July, 2013. Districts where elections would take place on each of these dates were also specified by the Court. The processes already completed as per earlier notifications, such as, nomination, scrutiny of nomination, printing of ballot papers, etc. would remain undisturbed. After ascertaining from the Commission the number of forces required on the election days, the Supreme Court directed how deployment of forces was to be done for different phases of the elections and what would be the

37

individual responsibility of the state and central government for deploying such number of forces as determined by the Court for different phases. Thus, at last, the SEC got what it wanted, namely, elections in five phases and deployment of adequate number of central police forces. It required the Supreme Courts intervention to get this settled. Even the Division Bench of the High Court failed to ensure that its own orders on deployment of forces were enforced by the state government. By incorporating all the suggestions of the Commission to hold elections in five phases and arranging such number of security forces as was considered necessary by it, the Supreme Court once again conveyed the message that constitutionally the Commission was supreme in all matters relating to conduct of elections. What was the response of the State Government to this order of the Supreme Court? Even though the state government had resisted, tooth and nail, the deployment of central forces from the very beginning and showed extreme callousness in requisitioning such forces from the central government, they did not raise any objection in the Supreme Court and agreed to issue fresh notification rescheduling the dates of election and deployment of forces as indicated by the Court. What happened in reality was a different story to which we shall now turn.

38

VIOLENCE CASTS ITS SHADOW ON THE ELECTIONS


he Commission fought a long-lasting legal battle to ensure, among other things, deployment of adequate forces including central government paramilitary forces during the entire election process. As noted, it failed to ensure deployment of adequate forces during the nomination and campaign phases. A few days before the commencement of polling, the Commission could obtain a favourable order from the Supreme Court and the central paramilitary forces along with the state police forces in adequate numbers were made available for maintaining law and order during the polling phase. But the law and order situation failed to improve. One of the reasons for violence during the polling phase ( 11 July to 25 July, 2013) is that the central paramilitary forces that were available to the state administration were not properly utilised. Violence in various forms that had started at the time of the nomination process continued unabated up to the polling and counting phases, and even thereafter. As mentioned in Section II, the division bench of the High Court directed that elections were to be held in three phases in the months of June and July and in any event before 15th July, 2013. Accordingly fresh notification was issued on 17 May 2013 by the State government under Section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act, 2003 for holding elections to all the three tiers of panchayats in three phases on the 2nd, 6th and 9th July, 2013 in the following manner. Phase 1: 2nd July, 9 districts, namely 24 Parganas (South), 24 Parganas (North), Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan, Bankura, Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Purulia. Phase 2: 6 th July, 4 districts, namely, Birbhum, Nadia, Murshidabad, Maldah Phase 3: 9th July, 4 districts, namely Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakhsin Dinajpur.

39

According to the notification issued by the State Election Commission issued on 27 May 2013, the last dates of submission of nominations for the three phases were 5th, 10th and 12th June respectively, while the corresponding last dates for withdrawal of candidature were 10th, 15th and 17th June. Indicators of free and fair elections What are the indicators of free and fair elections? One could perhaps claim that an election has been conducted in a free and fair manner if the following conditions are satisfied. i. Political parties/candidates did not face any difficulty in filing nominations, campaigning, deputing polling agents in polling booths and in counting centres. ii. A voter could vote freely and without any fear of repercussion expected from any political party or others, if he/she cast a vote against their wishes. iii. Incidents of violence in any of the election phases are negligible, violence being defined as criminal intimidation, physical assaults causing minor or grievous hurt, violating womens modesty or rape, destroying public or private property, causing riot, murder, etc. When judged in terms of the above indicators, it would be hard to claim that the 2013 panchayat elections of West Bengal were to a great extent conducted in a free and fair manner. Violence during the nomination phase From the beginning of the election process, that is, after the notification announcing the dates of the elections was issued, all the opposition parties, namely the Left Front (LF), Congress and BJP, started complaining about the terror being unleashed by the local TMC leaders and workers. This intensified after the State Election Commissions notification was issued on 27 May. Allegations were coming from all corners that the candidates of the opposition parties were being threatened and large numbers of such candidates were being prevented from submitting

40

nomination papers. Their houses were being raided and many candidates were forced to leave their villages. In many places the ruling party physically prevented the opposition candidates from entering the offices of BDOs for submitting nominations. The SEC had to issue special orders to allow submission of nominations for gram panchayats and other tiers at the SDOs offices in as many as 71 Blocks with the expectation that better security would be available there. But in many cases even the offices of SDOs also witnessed similar disturbances whenever the opposition candidates came to file their nominations. Complaints about widespread use of violence including criminal intimidation were being made by the opposition parties. The electronic and print media were regularly reporting the widespread breakdown of law and order in a number of districts. Reports of about 3 or 4 murders and grievous injuries sustained by a sizeable number of people were received. At least 3 senior leaders9 of the ruling party were heard advising the party workers in three different districts to ensure that no opposition parties were allowed to file nomination papers of their candidates. Those of the opposition parties who filed nominations were being asked to withdraw their candidature and many were reported to have succumbed to the threats coming from goons who were believed to be belonging to the ruling party. (See Appendix A for media reports and case studies on some specific instances of violence). The SEC had anticipated that the entire process of election would not be smooth and that threats of breakdown of law and order preventing free and fare conduct of the poll were real. That is why it wanted deployment of 300 companies of armed forces during the nomination process. But the government provided only one-tenth of the forces demanded by the SEC, as a result of which the offices of BDOs who were returning officers of gram panchayat elections remained unguarded. The forces deployed in the offices of SDOs also were not adequate. Thus the miscreants had a rather free field to carry out their activities.
9

One of them is a minister of the state government, another is an MP and the third is a President of a district committee of the ruling party. All of them issued threats in the full glare of media

41

Large number of uncontested seats: One consequence of the lack of security provided to candidates has been that a large number of candidates have been prevented from exercising their democratic right to contest the elections. This has resulted in huge number of cases of uncontested wins from the seats of gram panchayats and panchayat samitis. And invariably, in nearly 99% of cases, the winning candidates belong to the ruling party. Let us look at the picture of uncontested wins in the seats of GPs and Panchayat Samitis of different districts (Tables 1 and 2) to show that the complaints made by the opposition parties about the breakdown of the law and order machinery that prevented their candidates from filing nominations or being forced to withdraw nominations after filing the same were not wholly untrue.
Table 1 Number of seats in Gram Panchayats and seats won uncontested District No of seats Seats won Uncontested Uncontested uncontested seats won seats won by TMC by other parties 1220 (38.22) 224 ( 9.21) 944 (24.54) 548 (21.88) 811 (19.94) 362 (10.72) 296 (6.06) 109 (3.05) 2 (0.1) 631 (28.08) 13( 0.4) 17 (0.4) 49 (2.15) 1(0.06) 14(1.4) 9 (0.38) 126 (6.41) 5376 (11.01) 1207 (98.94) 223 (99.55) 937 (99.26) 536 (97.81) 800 (98.64) 362 (100) 294 (99.32) 109 (100) 1 629 (99.68) 13 (100) 1(5.88) 44 (89.8) 0 14 (100) 2 126 (100) 5298 (98.55) (1.06) (0.45) (0.74) (2.19) (1.36) 0 2 (0.68) 0 1 2 (0. 32) 0 16 (94.12) 5 1 0 7 0 78 (1.45) 13 1 7 12 11

Hooghly Howrah Paschim Medinipur Bankura Burdwan Purba Medinipur 24 Parganas South 24 Parganas North Purulia Birbhum Nadia Murshidabad Malda Uttar Dinajpur Dakshin Dinajpur Jalpaiguri CoochBehar Total

3192 2431 3846 2505 4067 3378 4883 3570 1944 2247 3246 4247 2281 1649 1002 2346 1966 48800

Source: State Election Commission, West Bengal. Note: Figures in brackets indicate percentages

42
Table 2: Number of seats in Panchayat Samitis and seats won uncontested District No of seats Seats won Uncontested Uncontested uncontested seats won seats won by TMC by other parties 217 (35.75) 36 (7.79) 133 (16.67) 109 (20.37) 127 (16.30) 56 (8.47) 44 (4.82) 10 (1.69) 123 (26.45) 1 2 5 2 16 (4.37) 881 (9.53) 217 36 133 109 125 56 44 10 123 1 5 2 16 877 (99.55) 2 2 4 (0.45)

Hooghly Howrah Paschim Medinipur Bankura Burdwan Purba Medinipur 24 Parganas South 24 Parganas North Purulia Birbhum Nadia Murshidabad Malda Uttar Dinajpur Dakshin Dinajpur Jalpaiguri CoochBehar Total

607 462 798 535 779 661 913 591 446 465 547 748 423 287 190 422 366 9240

Source: State Election Commission, West Bengal. Note: Figures in brackets indicate percentages

Table 1 shows that more than 11% GP seats (5376 seats out of a total of 48800 seats) went uncontested. Nearly 99% of them have been captured by the TMC. At least 7 districts are worst hit, where the numbers of uncontested seats are exceptionally high. Hooghly tops the list with 38% of gram panchayat seats going uncontested and almost all in favour of TMC. The numbers of uncontested seats are also very high in Birbhum ((28%), Paschim Medinipur (24.54%), Bankura (28.88%), Burdwan (nearly 20%) Purba Medinipur (nearly 11%) and Howrah (9.22%). It is interesting to note that out of the 10 districts where the numbers of uncontested seat are less, in at least 4 districts the opposition parties were winners (Congress in 2 districts and Left in 2 districts) and in three other districts (Nadia, 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South) they emerged as strong contenders. Table 2 shows that more than 9.5% of Panchayat Samiti seats have gone uncontested and the sole beneficiary of this has been

43

the ruling party, namely the TMC. At the level of Panchayat Samiti, the fact of nearly one-tenth seats going uncontested is quite unusual. Again, seven districts are worst-hit districts, namely, Hooghly, Birbhum and Bankura where uncontested seats range between 20% and 36%, followed by the districts of Paschim Medinipur, Burdwan, Purba Medinipur and Howrah where uncontested seats range between 8% and 16%. 15 ZP seats out of a total of 825 seats also went uncontested. These 15 seats are in three districts. 13 of them are in the districts of Hooghly and Birbhum where 12% and 16.66% of ZP seats were uncontested. In 24 Parganas South district 2 ZP seats were uncontested. Apart from such uncontested seats, there are many seats in various districts where there has been contest among different factions of the ruling party, but no recognised political party in the opposition, namely Congress, BJP and the Left, could file nominations10. This gives strong support to the complaint of all the opposition parties (LF, Congress and BJP) that force in various forms was used to prevent their candidates from filing nominations or to withdraw nominations after filing the same. Thus the nomination phase of the elections had definitely been marred by the following factors.

Right from the start all the opposition parties had complained about the use of force and violence by the ruling party cadres to prevent their candidates from contesting elections. Both electronic and print media gave wide coverage to such reports. The high number of uncontested wins of seats, particularly at the level of GP, lends strong support to the complaints made by the opposition parties. Records of panchayat elections in West Bengal since 1978 show that generally uncontested seats in gram panchayats remain confined between less than 1% and 3%. There were exceptions in 1988 when such seats exceeded 8% and in 2003 when around 11% seats in GPs went uncontested. In 2008, the number of

10

Reliable estimates of the numbers of such seats are not yet available

44

uncontested seats was around 6%. The percentages of uncontested seats in the elections of 2013 seem to have surpassed the records of uncontested seats in 6 out of 7 panchayat elections held previously. The position in at least 7 districts ( Hooghly, Howrah, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Burdwan, Purba Medinipur and Birbhum) was particularly bad. In 5 out of these 7 districts, uncontested seats in GP ranged between 20% and 38% and in 2 other districts between 9% and 11%. The beneficiary of these uncontested wins was the TMC alone.

As the above account shows, in the nomination process, the right of citizens to contest elections had been seriously trampled upon. The blame for this has to be borne by the state government for its failure to deploy security forces in adequate numbers, despite being requested to do so by the SEC and for numerous instances of non-cooperation with the SEC. From campaign stage to the counting stage According to all the opposition parties, namely, the Left Front, Congress and BJP, the next three stages, namely, campaign stage, polling stage and post-polling stage including counting of votes and declaration of results were also not different. CPI(M) Polit Bureau had issued a press statement on 26 July, 2013, immediately after the last phase of the elections was over. There was almost near unanimity among the opposition parties on the following points of the statement:

The entire election (had) been marred by widespread attacks, intimidation and rigging. Thousands of candidates were prevented from filing nominations. In many places opposition candidates were prevented from conducting their election campaign among the people. The polling process was vitiated by violence against opposition candidates, their polling agents and supporters.

45

The Left Front candidates were physically prevented from filing their nominations. (Other opposition parties also made similar complaints). During the campaign, some TMC ministers and leaders made the most provocative speeches inciting violence against all opponents. No action was taken against them. All through the campaign Left Front and Congress candidates were attacked, their campaigners including women beaten up and injured. During the polling which began on July 11 and concluded on July 25 complaints of rigging were heard in different places. According to the CPI(M) in all the districts put together, a total of 4470 booths were completely or partially captured. In many booths, polling agents of the CPI(M) and the Left Front were driven out after which stamping of ballot papers took place. The Congress also had made similar complaints. Despite the orders of the State Election Commission and the High Court directive (motorcycleborne miscreants) were not stopped and were allowed to move freely to terrorise the opposition and the voters. Even on the day of polling these gangs threatened people from going to polling booths.

Veracity of the complaints In elections it is quite common for the opposition parties to complain about booth capturing, violence, rigging, lack of impartiality of the law enforcement agencies, etc and for the ruling party to deny such complaints. In these election too, the same thing happened. Since all the opposition parties, as we shall see later, lost heavily in this election how much credence can be given to their complaints of violence as described in this section? In forming our views on this, we depend upon the secondary evidence available with us, since neither any serious study based on field research nor any official report based on impartial enquiry is available. On the other hand much secondary evidence is available to indicate that a reign of terror was indeed unleashed by the ruling party in many places to vitiate the entire

46

polling process from the stage of filing nominations to the stage of counting of votes. It has already been shown that the number of seats won uncontested by the ruling party in GP and PS elections have been unusually high. The number of seats won uncontested is a reliable measure of the ruling partys terrorising activities for monopolising the political space. This measure and the fact that the SEC had to open up parallel centres at SDOs offices to enable opposition candidates to submit nomination without facing resistance in 71 Blocks, go to give ample evidence of the fact that the ruling party resorted to violence and intimidation of opposition candidates in a large number of areas. Secondly, both print media and electronic media had covered many incidents of poll-related violence almost continuously during the entire election process. They include many cases of physical assault, criminal intimidation, burning of houses, verbal threats and also murder. A few case studies prepared from such reports are shown in Appendix A. Thirdly, large numbers of murders have taken place during different phases of polling and before and after polling. A conservative estimate put the number of murders at 25 and according to some estimates the number exceeds 50. CPI(M) Polit Bureau has claimed as many as 24 CPI(M) workers were murdered during the campaign and during polling. They have published the names of their workers who were murdered. Fourthly, Even though adequate numbers of central paramilitary forces were made available, they were not utilised properly for important duties like area domination, booth guarding etc and the SECs instructions in this regard were ignored. Fifthly, it has been alleged that the bureaucracy and the police engaged in election duty acted in a partisan manner. They looked the other way whenever the question of taking action against miscreants of the ruling party arose. Even the SECs orders to take action against a ruling party leader and an officer in charge of a police station were ignored. In the first case, the President of Birbhum district committee of TMC asked his party workers openly in a public meeting not to allow candidates of the opposition parties to contest elections. SEC asked the District

47

Magistrate (DM) to lodge an FIR against the person. This order was not carried out by the DM. In the second case, SEC got a report from the Observer that the officer-in-charge of a police station in Purba Medinipur district was openly acting in favour of the ruling party. SEC asked the concerned Superintendent of Police to transfer this officer to a post having no connection with election work. It was told that the government was unable to comply with its request. The SEC was also reported to have asked the state government to caution three Superintendents of Police in view of several complaints lodged against them for favouring a particular political party11. The government took no action on this. All these facts raise doubts about the impartiality of the public servants engaged in election work. Rigging at Counting Halls In the previous Panchayat elections, complaints about rigging at counting halls were not heard. But this time the case was different. It was alleged that many of the counting agents of the opposition parties were beaten up and driven out of the counting centres. It was also alleged that in a large number of places manipulation in counting of votes had been done in various ways: forcefully adding rejected votes of the ruling party to that partys account, rejecting valid votes of the opposition parties etc. Such instances have been reported to have occurred mostly in the districts of Burdwan, Hooghly, Howrah, and 24 Parganas North. In the absence of reports of the Returning Officers or Observers, it is difficult to verify these allegations. But the fact that the counting agents of the opposition parties were driven out of the counting halls in many places was reported by the media. Capturing of panchayats by the ruling party In West Bengal the elected members elect from among themselves a chairperson and a vice chairperson of each tier of panchayat in a meeting presided over by the BDO in the case of the election
11

See The Times of India, Kolkata, 2 July, 2013

48

of Pradhan of GP and SDO in the case of Sabhapati of a Panchayat Samiti. Since in this state elections are fought on party basis, the nominees of the party having the largest number of elected members of a panchayat get automatically elected. But this time allegations were heard from several areas of some districts to the effect that use of force had been resorted to by the TMC, the ruling party in order to influence election of the chairpersons and vice chairpersons of GPs and PSs. Techniques used were varied. In some places elected members of the majority party had been kidnapped or were severely threatened, so that they were forced to remain absent from attending the meetings fixed for election of chairperson or vice-chairperson. In some places the police arrested some elected member of the majority party on the basis of a concocted FIR filed by the ruling party. A typical case of such malpractice was taken to the High Court. This related to the case of Sujali GP of Islampur Block in North Dinajpur district. In this GP, in all 18 members got elected, out of whom 12 belonged to the Left Front, 5 were from TMC and 1 was from Congress. On the day of the election to the post of Pradhan and Upa Pradhan of the GP, 12 Left Front members were detained on the road where a massive bombing attack was launched. All of them sustained injuries and were admitted to the hospital. Meanwhile, TMC members with the help of the Congress member succeeded in getting their nominees elected to these posts. The High Court expressed its disgust at the kind of caricature to which the election of office-bearers of GP or PS had been brought down and ordered that in all cases the respective chairpersons elected through similar manipulative practices should not be allowed to exercise the statutory and other administrative powers given to the holders of such posts.

49

RISE OF THE TRINAMUL CONGRESS: AN ANALYSIS

he 2013 Panchayat elections dislodged the Left Front from the dominance it had established in the last seven panchayat elections beginning from 1978. In 2013, it had to yield its position to the Trinamul Congress. Of all the previous elections, the results of the 2008 elections were worst for the LF. It had to concede many seats in all the three tiers to TMC and Congress. In spite of that it could retain its dominance in all the three tiers. The LF fared worse this time in comparison to its performance in 2008. Performance of different political parties in the 2013 election and a comparison between the results of these elections with those of the 2008 elections are provided in Tables 3 to 8. Tables 3 and 4 provide information on seat share and vote share respectively of different political parties in the 2013 Zilla Parishad elections. Table 3 shows that Trinamul Congress has established absolute domination in the Zilla Parishads, winning more than 61% of the total ZP seats and emerging as the majority party in 13 out of 17 ZPs of the state. Compared to TMC, the Left has registered a lacklustre performance. It could win only 28% seats in the Zilla Parishads. Its control over ZPs was reduced to only 2 small North Bengal districts. However, the vote share of the Left was not as bad as seat share. As Table 4 shows, the LF got 37.38% of the valid votes polled, against Trinamuls 43.63%. In terms of vote share, difference between the two political formations is a little over 6%. But in terms of seat share the difference is as much as 33%. Even though both Congress and BJP contested in most of the seats, the voters chose to ignore the BJP. The Indian National Congress (INC), however, could win about 10% seats with 13% vote share, thanks to their good performance mainly in the two districts of Murshidabad and Malda. They could also wrest control of the ZPs of these two districts. Except in these districts, and to some extent in the district of Uttar Dinajpur, the contest in ZP elections of all other districts was practically restricted to TMC and the LF.

50

Comparing the results of 2008 and 2013, one notices reversal of fortune of the two political entities, namely TMC and the Left (Table 5). While in 2008, TMC got 16% ZP seats against Lefts seat share of 68.72%, in 2013 the Left managed only 28.41% seats, against TMCs share of 61.41% seats. In terms of capturing ZPs also there is a similarity. In 2008, TMC could get control over two ZPs, Purba Medinipur and South 24 Parganas. In 2013, the LF also similarly captured only two ZPs, namely Jalpaiguri and Uttar Dinajpur.
Table 3 Seat Share in Zilla Parishad elections 2013
District Total Seats 46 75 42 40 50 38 33 38 67 60 70 47 58 17 26 57 81 845 Results available 46 75 35 33 44 37 33 38 54 60 70 47 58 17 26 57 79 809 100 Number of Seats Won By TMC Congress Other Parties 41 63 18 29 38 4 29 6 51 53 25 33 13 5 36 54 498 61.56 2 4 16 1 1 41 1 3 8 1 78 9.64 1 2 1 4 0.49

Left Front 5 12 14 4 6 27 4 15 2 6 29 21 22 4 13 20 25 229 28.31

Bankura Burdwan Birbhum Howrah Hooghly Jalpaiguri Coochbehar Malda Paschim Medinipur Purba Medinipur Murshidabad Nadia Purulia Dakshin Dinajpur Uttar Dinajpur North 24 Parganas South 24 Parganas Total %

Source: West Bengal State Election Commission Website for all districts except the data of Jalpaiguri and 24 Parganas (South) districts, as the Commissions data on these districts were incomplete. Data of these two districts have been obtained from other sources, including newspaper reports.

51
Table 4 Vote Share in Zilla Parishad Elections 2013
District LF Bankura Burdwan Birbhum Howrah Hooghly Jalpaiguri Coochbehar Malda Paschim Midnapore Purba Midnapore Murshidabad Nadia Purulia Dakshin dinajpur Uttar Dinajpur North 24 Parganas South 24 Parganas Total Percentage 762898 1080388 477285 499161 696745 352469 521972 552494 799744 1062151 1251939 1010739 550783 300293 445660 1106431 1462304 12933456 37.38 Vote share TMC Congress 968801 1560401 603427 753252 1139048 287363 706257 459058 1398454 1398525 590964 1022462 619598 340531 308149 1225888 1713827 15096005 43.63 61662 178411 201656 112937 92784 142100 130829 604380 132908 98825 1319895 338114 185601 56660 393578 258664 197177 4506181 13.02 Valid Vote Others 97828 131861 124778 99235 112569 109110 92482 157146 89712 112434 126021 156885 58275 48435 125555 158743 265666 2066735 5.97 1891189 2951061 1407146 1464585 2041146 891042 1451540 1773078 2420818 2671935 3288819 2528200 1414257 745919 1272942 2749186 3638974 34601837 100.00

Source: West Bengal State Election Commission, except the data for 24 Parganas South district. Note: Data for 52 seats out of the total of 845 seats are not included in the above table.

Table 5 Seat share in Zilla Parishads: Comparison between 2008 and 2013 elections Political Parties Left Front Trinamul Congress Congress Others and Independents Total Seats 2008 514 (68.72) 120 (16.04) 99 (13.24) 15 (2.00) 748 (100.00) 2013 229 (28.31) 498 (61.56) 78 (9.64) 4 (0.49) 809 (100.00)

*Data for 36 seats are not included in this table.

52
Table 6 Seat Share in Panchayat Samiti elections 2013
District Bankura Burdwan Birbhum Howrah Hooghly Jalpaiguri Coochbehar Malda Paschim Medinipur Purba Medinipur Murshidabad Nadia Purulia Dakshin Dinajpur Uttar Dinajpur North 24 Parganas South 24 Parganas Total % Total Seats 535 779 465 462 607 422 366 423 798 661 748 547 446 190 287 591 913 9240 Results Available 513 636 310 345 607 340 187 420 492 660 629 545 419 188 287 571 552 7701 100 TMC 392 412 156 250 471 106 131 72 422 485 30 257 260 126 43 329 339 4281 55.59 Number of Seats Won by LF Congress Others 104 192 115 84 124 170 48 159 58 150 292 233 113 55 142 216 186 2441 31.70 3 21 31 9 1 36 8 174 4 10 302 45 41 6 99 23 11 824 10.70 14 11 8 2 11 28 15 8 15 5 10 5 1 3 3 16 155 2.01

Source: West Bengal State Election Commission. Note: Results of 1539 (16.65%) seats out of the total of 9240 seats of Panchayat Samiti were not available before this publication went to press.

Table 7 Seat Share in Panchayat Samiti elections: 2008 and 2013 Political Parties Left Front Trinamul Congress Congress Others and Independents Total Seats 2008 4898 (55.63) 2019 (22.93) 1446 (16.43) 441 (5.01) 8804 2013 2441 (31.70) 4281 (55.59) 824 (10.70) 155 (2.01) 7701 (100.00)

Source: 2013 data computed from data provided in State Election Commission website. 2008 data obtained from Maidul Islams article On the Panchayat Elections in West Bengal, www.Pragoti.in Notes: (1) On 2013 figures see Note below table 6. (2) Figures in parentheses represent percentages

Data on the results of Panchyat Samiti elections are provided in Tables 6 and 7. Table 6 showing the seat share in Panchayat Samiti elections has been computed from the data made available by the State Election Commission in their website. As mentioned in the note to Table 6, data of over 1500 seats were not available

53

before this publication went to press. However, the observations to be made on the basis of analysis of the available data are not likely to be affected by this gap in the data. In Panchayat Samitis also Trinamul has maintained its supremacy winning 55.59% PS seats against LFs seat share of only 31.70%. Except in the districts of Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and partly in 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South, TMC has practically crushed the opposition parties. When this result is compared with that of 2008 panchayat election, one notices a complete role reversal. In 2008, LF got 55.63% Panchayat Samiti seats. In 2013, TMCs share of PS seats is 55.59%. However, LF won nearly 32% seats in 2013, while TMC got around 23% seats in 2008.
Table 8 Seat Share in Gram Panchayats: 2008 and 2013 Political Parties Left Front Trinamul Congress Congress Others and Independents Total Seats Seats won in 2008 21780 (52.48) 9379 (22.61) 6839 (16.48) 3495 (5.61) 41493 (100) Seats won in 2013 15614 (32.01) 25175 (51.62) 5495 (11.27) 2489 (3.91) 48773 (100.00)

Source: Data collected partly from the State Election Commission and partly from newspaper. Notes: (1) Total seats represent the number of seats to which elections were held: 41493 seats out of a total of 41504 seats in 2008 and 48773 seats out of a total of 48800 seats in 2013. (2) Figures in parentheses represent percentage of the total seats

As far as gram panchayats are concerned, it is interesting to note that LFs seat share in gram panchayats is 32%, which is exactly equal to their share of PS seats. Even the share of ZP seats (28%) of the Left is close to their share of PS and GP seats. As in Panchayat Samiti, there has been a role reversal in gram panchayats as well. In 2008, LF won 52.48% GP seats. TMCs share of GP seats in 2013 works out to 51.62%. According to an estimate, TMC could capture around 65% of total Panchayat Samitis and 56% of the total Gram Panchayats, apart from capturing 13 out of 17 ZPs,12 even though the party secured less than 44% votes in the elections to the ZP seats.
12 See Biswanath Chakravartys essay in Desh Kal Bhavana, 20 August, 2013

54

One of the reasons for poor performance of all the opposition parties is that they could not field candidates in a large number of seats due to various instances of terrorisation and violence in different parts of the state. Violence was responsible for eliminating totally all the opposition parties from contesting elections in 39 Blocks13. It was mentioned earlier that the SEC had to open centres for submitting nominations in as many as 71 Blocks, as the opposition candidates found it difficult to submit nominations at BDOs offices. Effect of violence on election result It was noted earlier that the direct effect of terrorisation and violence has been on the number of uncontested seats, which was unusually high. Did this have any effect on the seats where elections were held? Though concrete data are still not available to assess objectively the extent to which violence is responsible for the outcome in the elections, it would be worthwhile to look at an interesting analysis14 made by the activists of a political party in respect of panchayat elections of two districts, namely North and South 24 Parganas. In North 24 Parganas, there are 57 Zilla parishad seats, spread over 22 Blocks. Among them Barrackpur I and II, Barasat II, parts of Sandeshkhali I, Haroa and Minakha Blocks were identified as the areas where the intensity of violence was considered to be high. There are 12 ZP seats in these areas. In the second category were placed Barasat 1, Habra I, Amdanga, Sandeshkhali II, Rajarhat, Hasnabad, Haroa, Hingalganj and Basirhat II where the intensity of violence was somewhat lesser. There are 14 ZP seats in these areas. Leaving aside these 26 seats, there are 31 seats where situation was considered to be normal. ZP election results in these three areas differed substantially, as Table 9 shows.

Ibid The analysis was done at the behest of CPI(M). Summary of this analysis was made public. The author is grateful to Sri Gautam Deb, a senior leader of CPI(M) for giving him access to the data used for the analysis
13 14

Table 9 Differences in ZP election results within North 24 Parganas district Seats (No) 12 12 63.93 28.97 2.35 Seats won by (No) TMC LF Congress Others Votes TMC polled by (%) LF Congress Others 4.75

Category of areas

Category I: Areas where intensity of violence was considered to be high 14 13 1 51.08 37.70

Category II: Moderately violent areas 31 12 19 40.83

6.37

4.85

55

Category III: Normal areas 57 37 20 -

43.51

10.94

4.72

Total

56

A similar exercise was done in respect of South 24 Parganas district. In this district, there are 81 ZP seats among which 27 seats were reported to be affected by violence and terror. Blocks involved in high and medium level violence are reported to be Basanti I, Canning I and II, Bhangore I and II, Sonarpur, Bishnupur I, Kakdwip, Mandirbazar, Magrahat I and II, Baruipur and Budge Budge. As in North 24 Parganas, the ZP election results of South 24 Parganas district differed substantially in the three categories of areas, as shown in Table 10. The data given above clearly show that there has been wide fluctuation of fortunes of the ruling and opposition parties in different categories of areas within the same district. If the categorisation of areas in terms of the intensity of violence is correct, then the above data clearly establish a linkage between violence and the electoral outcomes of the ruling and opposition parties. This, of course, may not fully explain the poor result of the opposition parties in most of the districts. Even without violence, probably the ruling party would have been able to secure majority in most districts, but at the same time it would be difficult to deny that violence did not play any role in influencing the results of these elections.

Table 10 Differences in ZP election results within South 24 Parganas district Seats (No) 15 13 69.55 26.70 1.70 Seats TMC won LF by (No) INC Others Votes TMC polled by% LF Congress

Category of Zones

Others 2.05

Category I: Areas where intensity of violence was considered to be high 12 11 1 46.74 39.75

Category II: Moderately violent Areas 54 30 24 42.33

9.20

4.31

57

Category III: Normal Areas 81 54 25 -

43.20

5.34

9.13

Total

Note: Results of 2 seats in Category I areas not available. Seat share and Vote share of these areas have been calculated on the basis of results of 13 seats. In total, out of 81 seats, results of 79 seats have been given.

58

CONCLUSION

n constructing the story of West Bengals panchayat elections, 2013, one cannot overlook the aspects of the long-drawn out conflict between the state government and the State Election Commission and subsequent judicial interventions for resolving the dispute. The details of this conflict have been given in this report, which would inevitably lead one to make the following observations about the role of the present state government in these elections. First, the manner in which the state government engaged with the State Election Commission shows that once elected our political executives exhibit a tendency to assume unbridled power and do not hesitate to denigrate the authority of other constitutional bodies. It is quite clear that the state government wanted to hold the panchayat elections on its own terms. It wanted to have the last word on the timing of elections, phasing of polling, deployment of forces, control over officers and police forces engaged in election duty, etc. It mattered little what law had to say on them. Had the SEC been pliant there would have been no problem. In this case the Commission had exercised its own judgement and did not allow itself to be carried away by what the state government was determined to do. The conflict arose because of that. The instances of denial of the authority of the Commission were confined not only to taking unilateral decision without proper consultation with the Commission (such as issuance of the notification under section 42 of the Panchayat Election Act) or the wilful violation of the lawful requests or instructions of the Commission (for example, not acceding to the Commissions requests to deploy central armed forces in a certain specific manner), the ministers of the government as also various party leaders hurled abuses against the office of the Commission as well as the Election Commissioner personally. The government seemed to be in a mission to undermine the position of SEC,

59

even though the Commission draws its power and authority from the Constitution. A fairly detailed account has been given in this report about the atmosphere of terrorisation and violence that prevailed before, during and even after the elections. While there will be charges and counter-charges on the ruling party-sponsored terror and violence, two things are clear. First, many allegations about violence have been extensively reported by the media, showing that the ruling party resorted to violence during different phases of the elections. Secondly, according to all the three main opposition parties, none of them got a level playing field in a large number of districts, especially in South Bengal. Some secondary evidence on such allegations is available and has been provided in this report. Resorting to violence by a political party is not an uncommon thing in Indian elections. What has added worries to such incidents is that the miscreants of the ruling party are believed to have received tacit support of the local police and administration in flagrant violation of rule of law. Similar reports of electoral malpractice had occurred in previous elections but complaints about fairly open support to the ruling party by the administration were rarely heard. It is not that the administration did not adopt a partisan attitude and did not favour the ruling party under the earlier regime. They did, but they did so secretly and not openly. This time the story was different. The distinction between the government and the party, which used to be maintained at least outwardly during the election time, was obliterated in the 2013 panchayat elections. This is a dangerous omen for the smooth functioning of a democratic system. Neutrality in conducting elections is a cardinal principle of a functional democracy. That is the reason why during election time normal administration including police administration engaged in election duty remain under the control of the Election Commission and the Commission has been given pivotal role in conducting elections. By denying the State Election Commission control over the election machinery, the state government has violated the Constitution. Everybody noticed the consequences of this. The District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police

60

refused to comply with the lawful orders of the Commission, setting a very bad example of electoral malpractice. The instances of not taking prompt and lawful actions against reported incidents of violence, wilful violation of the lawful instructions of the State Election Commission, patronization of leaders of the ruling party, some of whom openly incited party workers not to allow opposition candidates to file nominations, systematic intimidation of candidates and voters, capture of counting halls and allowing intruders to fudge the counting process, kidnapping or arresting or intimidating newly elected members belonging to the opposition parties to prevent them from participating in the elections to the posts of Pradhan or Sabhapati, etc. all these are parts of the same story of transgression of rule of law that characterised the conduct of Panchayat elections of 2013 in West Bengal. The positive side of the story is that the State Election Commission tried hard to conduct elections in a free and fair manner even though it was confronted with stubborn opposition from the state government on many issues. In the process, it established certain norms of behaviour for the office of the SEC that may serve as a model for the future incumbents of the office. Another positive side of the story is that the scope, power and the role of SEC have been judicially reviewed again and it has been clarified in the single bench judgement of Calcutta High Court that in the matter of conducting panchayat elections, the SEC has a pivotal role to play and the role of the state government in the same is to abide by the directions of the Commission in the same manner in which it follows the Election Commission of India during the elections for Parliament and State Legislatures. The judgement of the single bench of Calcutta High Court was, however, challenged by the State Government before the Division bench of Calcutta High Court. But that bench did not consider the merit of the judgement and also ordered that it could not be cited as a guide to interpret the relevant provisions of the West Bengal Panchayat Act. Important points in dispute are: (a) The constitutional validity of Section 42 of the Election Act, which continues to be interpreted by the state government

61

as a provision that gives absolute power to the state government to fix the dates of election and phasing of elections; (b) Plenary powers of the SEC in respect of areas where the states Election Act are silent (for example, control over the district bureaucracy and district police engaged in election work); and (c) Supremacy of SEC in the matter of conduct of polls that includes all issues relevant for holding elections in a free and fair manner. The subject of deployment of security forces during the entire election process also falls within such issues. Unless these issues are resolved, the problems of the 2013 elections may reappear once again in some other form in future. In sum, one may take a few lessons from the 2013 panchayat elections of West Bengal. First, the relationship between the state government and the SEC still remain fragile. This is not the problem of West Bengal alone. Many other states are also found to be undermining the role of the SEC, as they find it hard to accept the supremacy of the SEC in the matter of conduct of panchayat and municipal elections. In the present case, the state government, like an authoritarian regime, did everything to undermine the position of the SEC and in respect of the role of the SEC in local government elections acted on the basis of a view that is opposite to the view held by the Supreme Court. As this case shows, judicial intervention alone cannot prevent a government from throwing constitutional norms to the winds. Public awareness and civil society activism are necessary to prevent governments from becoming authoritarian. Secondly, violence is becoming a part of panchayat elections. Some people tend to think that allowing the political parties to contest panchayat elections with their party symbols is responsible for this. Hence, party-less elections will solve the problem of political violence. To say this is to deny the role of political parties in democracy. The root of the problem is perhaps located partly in the nature of our political practice and partly in grassroots power-structures. To a great extent, it is a law and order problem. For example, the central Election Commission, which oversees the law and order machinery during election time, can conduct Assembly and Parliament elections in a more or less violence-free manner. In the last panchayat elections of West Bengal also, much of the violence and terrorisation could

62

have been avoided if adequate security forces as recommended by the SEC had been provided. That did not materialise and even the central paramilitary forces that came at the behest of the Supreme Court were not properly utilised. All this underscores the need for giving utmost importance to the issues of law and order and strengthening of the hands of the State Election Commission for conducting local body elections in a free and fair manner. Politically, the last panchayat election has been a watershed, for it has ended complete domination of the Left Front over the Panchayati Raj institutions of the state. What this political change means for these institutions is a matter that will be revealed only in the future.

63

APPENDIX A
Media Reports on Poll Related Violence 1. The opposition candidates and voters being threatened In a status report submitted to the Calcutta High Court in midJune 2013, the Secretary of the State Election Commission stated that the candidates belonging to opposition parties including the voters sympathetic to such parties were being threatened by the workers of a specific political party. This had created a sense of insecurity among the opposition candidates and their supporters. This report, which held the state government responsible for failure in deploying adequate security forces, had practically corroborated the allegations made by the opposition parties about the absence of an environment conducive to the holding of elections in a free and fair manner. (Anandabazar Patrika, 21 June, 2013) 2. Kidnapping, vandalism and shooting A gang of about 20 armed people vandalized the house of Motabuddin Molla at village Atpur in Haroa Police Station, North 24 Parganas district on Thursday the 6th June 2013. Molla was a CPI(M) candidate in the panchayat election. He was pressurized to withdraw his nomination. When he refused to do so, the miscreants kidnapped him. On the same night another incident happened in Leningarh of Ghola Police Station. Here some miscreants vandalized the house of Susmita Haldar, a Congress candidate in panchayat election. Someone from among the miscreants shot at Ms Haldar, but the bullet missed her. The offenders then ransacked her house. Susmita informed the police, but the vandals fled before the Police reached the spot. (Bartaman, 8 June, 2013.)

64

3. Poll violence rocks south Bengal Violence over filing nominations for panchayat elections continued in south Bengal districts on Tuesday. While a key Congress leader who was to file his nomination for an East Midnapore zilla parishad seat was arrested on a year-old charge early on Tuesday, Trinamool Congress workers prevented a rebel party leader from entering the Midnapore SDO office when he went there to file his nomination as an Independent. Arambag in Hooghly witnessed a clash between rival Trinamool factions, while the body of a Trinamool supporter was recovered from a well in Burdwans Raniganj. (http://m.timesofindia.com/city/ kolkata/Poll-violence-rocks-south-bengal. Posted on June 5, 2013) 4. Pushpa declines to contest Early last week (last week of March, 2013), Pushpa Tudu (name changed), a probable CPM gram panchayat candidate, was addressing a small gathering in Burdwans Jemua when six men on motorcycles arrived. Stopping a couple of feet from her, they delivered a familiar message: if she dared to contest the panchayat polls, her family would not see her alive again. Then they sped off. Since then, Pushpa, the wife of a labourer who collects dry sal leaves and makes plates from them, has stopped addressing gatherings and confines herself to her home. My life is more important than politics. I am scared. I have decided not to contest the polls even if the party selects me and there are enough security personnel, she told The Telegraph, requesting that her real name should not be published as she fears a reprisal. Now that they are in power, the Trinamul Congress will stop at nothing to win the panchayat polls, she added. Kanchan Murmu, 35, a labourer who attended the gathering, said: Soon after the men on bikes left, I also fled from the meeting. (The Telegraph, 1 April, 2013, Calcutta) 5. No protection from Police In Birbhum, CPIM secretary Dilip Ganguly admitted that even though ruling party activists were terrorising cadres, no one

65

was willing to lodge police complaints for fear of reprisals. Trinamul is attacking our cadres mainly in Nanoor, Bolpur, Labpur and Dubrajpur, Ganguly said. But they would rather suffer in silence than complain to the police. They know that the police will not take any action and instead, Trinamuls tyranny will worsen. He alleged that at Pukurhans village in Nanoor, which witnessed several bloody political clashes, a CPIM leaders wife was told that her husband would be killed if he campaigned for the CPIM during the panchayat polls. I cannot mention his name because our comrades want to maintain anonymity. After the threat, the leader is so scared that he is shunning all party work, Ganguly said. There is nothing we can do to motivate him because we cannot guarantee his protection. ( The Telegraph 1 April 2013) 6. Dont allow the opposition candidates to contest Stoking controversy, Birbhum district president of Trinamool Congress Anubrata Mondal has instructed party workers at a rally to file nominations for the panchayat polls and not allow others to do so. Remember CPI(M) is our enemy, Congress is our enemy. From monday (10 June, 2013) you will file nominations and you will not allow others to file nominations. If you have any problems call me immediately. Ill be with you, Mandal told a party rally at Rampurhat yesterday (2 June, 2013). Two ministers, one MP and one MLA of the ruling party were present in the meeting. (www.zeenews.india.com 3 June, 2013) 7. Houses of Left Front supporters set on fire A report from South 24-Parganas said that 100 houses of the supporters of Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), a Left Front constituent, were vandalised and looted and 40 of them were set on fire allegedly by Trinamul Congress members in Basanti today. Police said that the violence took place today at Nirdeshkhali village during the morning hours which left a child injured. A large number of policemen were later posted in the area. RSP sources alleged that the police arrived late at the spot. When contacted, the Trinamul Congress denied its involvement

66

in the incident and said it was instead the party which was facing violence after the panchayat polls in the district on Friday. (http://www.thestatesman.net/news, 21 July, 2013) 8. High Court issues direction on security of candidates A week after the Supreme Court cleared the decks for a fivephase panchayat election, the Calcutta High Court on Friday (5 July 2013) asked the state government to deploy adequate policemen during campaigning to ensure safety of the candidates. The court directions came in the wake of a petition filed by Manoara Biwi, a CPIM candidate in Bhangar Block-I, alleging that she was being harassed and intimidated by Trinamool Congress supporters ever since filing of nominations began. A Congress candidate had lodged a similar petition before. Manoara, who is contesting in Kanjpur village, some 25km from Kolkata, has alleged she is unable to step out of her home to campaign because of harassment by bike-borne goons. Manoaras petition which echoes the refrain of several opposition candidates says she has lodged police complaints but little came of it. The police have lodged a case on her complaint but claim the accused are absconding. The CPM candidate, however, says this is not true and the goons harassing her are moving around in public. (Times News Network, July 6, 2013) 9. Contesting election as opposition candidate is a sin A woman candidate of SUCI, who happens to be an anganwadi helper, was being threatened by the TMC workers after she had filed her nomination for district panchayat seat in Pataspur under East Medinipur district. After the polling was over, her house was attacked, looted and damaged by the miscreants. Her husband and her son, an engineering student, were brutally beaten. The latter suffered fractures. Since the candidate reported the matter to the police, the TMC workers punished her. She was first tied to a tree and then mercilessly beaten, disrobed and then thrown in a nearby field. Villagers did not dare to go near her. Later she had to be hospitalized with multiple injuries and

67

is in trauma. (http://cpim.org/sites/default/files/ books_and_booklets/20130728-bengal-save-democracy_1.pdf) 10. Concerns over Poll violence Kolkata 24 July: Expressing concern over the rising incidents of panchayat poll violence in West Bengal, Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) K.H. Muniyappa today urged the state government to take steps for maintaining law and order. He was answering a question over the alleged unrest in the countryside where 23 people had died in violence related to the rural elections. We are concerned over the situation. The Congress workers and supporters were attacked and beaten up, the minister said. (http://headlinesindia.mapsofindia.com/ elections-news/panchayat-polls/concerned-over-bengal-pollviolence-kh-muniyappa-140444.html 11. Some quotes from the campaign speeches Tapas Pal M.P: Other than being an MP, I, Tapas Pal, am also the foot soldier of the Trinamool Congress. I am asking you to beat up the CPI (M) activists. http://www.thehindu.com/news, 19 July, 2013)) Anubrata Mandal, President Birbhum District, TMC: If independent candidates (referring to the dissident Trinamul workers contesting elections as independent candidates) issue any threats then attack and burn down their houses If the administration thinks of supporting the independents, then you hurl bombs at the police. I am telling you, hurl bombs at the police. (http://www.thehindu.com/news/, 19 July 2013)) Manurul Islam, Trinamul MLA, Birbhum: It will not take even a minute for me to behead you (referring to a Congress leader). (http://indiatoday.intoday.in, 22 July 2013) 12. Some comments on the State Election Commissioner Mamata Bannerjee (Chief Minister): Why did it (SEC) fix the polls during Ramzan? There is a gameplan, dhandabaji (a trick) behind this to prevent Muslim brothers and sisters from coming

68

out to vote during Ramzan. We will give a fitting reply for holding polls during Ramzan. {http:// articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-07-07) Shubendu Adhikari (TMC MP) : Comrade Mira Pande (State Election Commissioner) is waiting for ways to stall the elections. Ants grow wings before death. I know which medicine has to be administered for which disease, (The Telegraph, 10 July, 2013) Madan Mitra (Minister): Mira Pande babu will have to hide her face after the elections..you (referring to the State Election Commissioner) will have to go out of the country. (Heard in electronic media) 13. Price of getting elected: I Jahangir Alam Gazi, the 45-year old sabhapati of Hasnabad Panchayat Samiti, was shot dead at Basirhat, Talpukur, 70 KM from Calcutta on 9 September 2013 by three people who came on two motor cycles. In the 26-seat Hasnabad Panchayat Samiti, the CPIM and the Congress-Trinamul combine have 13 seats each. Trinamul, which won 12 seats, forged an alliance with the Congress that emerged victorious in one seat to make the tally equal to that of the CPIMs. Gazi, the CPIM candidate, was elected Sabhapati after he won the toss of a coin. The Saha Sabhapatis (Vice Chairperson) seat went to a Trinamul candidate. Trinamul stands to gain from the murder of Gazi, because CPIMs strength in the Board comes down to 12, leading the Trinamul-Congress combine with 13 members to gain full control over the panchayat samiti at least till a by-election is announced. While the police is investigating the case, the district committee of CPIM has alleged that TMC is responsible for the murder. (The Telegraph, 10 September 2013) 14. Price of getting elected: II Ranjit Mistri (47), the newly elected member of Narayanpur-I Gram Panchayat in Karimpur-II Block under Nadia district was an activist of CPI(M). He was a carpenter by profession. He was allegedly attacked by the goons with iron rod on a lonely street

69

when he was returning home. He received serious injury on the back of his head. The villagers rescued him in unconscious state after huge blood loss. They took him to village hospital and then he had to be removed to Baharampur Hospital where he ultimately succumbed to death on 3rd October, 2013. In the last panchayat elections, the Left Front won 8 seats out of the total of 15 seats in Narayanpur Panchayat and formed the board. With Mistrys death, both TMC and the Left have now equal members. (http://www.cpimwb.org.in) 15. CPM candidates husband killed Mohammed Sheikh Hasmat, husband of Monowara Bibi who is a candidate of Madhudanga gram panchayat under Jamuria police station, was killed when bombs were hurled at him while he was on his way to cast ballot. CPI(M) candidate for Panuria gram panchayat Siddhartha Banerjee was injured when he was beaten up in his locality allegedly by Trinamool Congress supporters in Burdwan district in the second phase panchayat elections in West Bengal, police said. (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-poll-violence-inwest-bengal, 15 July, 2013).

APPENDIX B1
Order of the State Election Commissioner No. 979-SEC/1E -70/2012 22.05.2013

In exercise of the power vested with the State Election Commission vide Article 243K(1) of the Constitution of Indi read with the provisions envisaged in Section 4(1) of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994 for superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and for conduct of elections to the Panchayats, it is hereby ordered that the District Panchayat Election Officer, Panchayat Returning Officers, Presiding Officers, Polling Officers and any other officers appointed for the conduct of the ensuing Panchayat General Elections, 2013 including all Police officers shall be deemed to be on deputation to the West Bengal State Election Commission for the period commencing from the dates of Notifications calling for such elections and ending with the date of declaration of results of such elections and, accordingly, such officers shall, during the abovementioned period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the West Bengal State Election Commission. Sd/(Mira Pande) West Bengal State Election Commission

APPENDIX B2
Letter of Shri Sanjay Mitra, Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal, to Smt. Mira Pande, State Election Commissioner, West Bengal D.O No. 102-CS/2013 May 29, 2013

Kindly refer to your order bearing No, 979-SEC/lF-70/2012 dated 22.05.2013 which states that certain categories of civil and police officials / employees of the state government will be deemed to be on deputation to the West Bengal State Election Commission for a period specified therein and that they would be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the Commission. A copy of the said order was forwarded to the undersigned. It has been ascertained that no such or similar order has been passed in previous Panchayat Elections in the State of West Bengal by the West Bengal State Election Commission since its very inception. The said order has been carefully examined in the Law Department and the view of the state government is that this order of the West Bengal State Election Commission is beyond the jurisdiction of the Commission as mandated by the Constitution of India and the statutes relating to the conduct of elections and preparation of electoral rolls for the Panchayati Raj bodies in this State. While the respective officials/employees of the state government are being appropriately advised from this end, you may kindly consider rescinding the said order. At the same time, the state government reiterates its resolve and commitment to deploy the available human and material resources as required, to the extent possible, to enable free and fair Panchayat elections. With warm regards, Sd/Sanjay Mitra

APPENDIX B3
Letter of the Secretary SEC addressed to the Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal No. 1263-SEC/1E-70/2012 Date: 29.05.2013

I am directed to request you to refer to your D.O. letter addressed to the State Election Commissioner vide D.O. No. 102-CS/2013 dated May 29, 2013. The matters raised in your letter under reference have been carefully considered by the Commission and the Commission holds that the Order vide No. 979-SEC/IE-70 dated 22.05.2013 issued by the Commission is well within the jurisdiction of the Commission having been vested with the power of superintendence, direction and control for the conduct of elections as provided under Article 243 K (1) of the Constitution of India. It may be pointed out that the said order was issued by the Commission on the strength of the plenary powers available with it under the above-mentioned provision of the Constitution of India and the law clearly laid down by the Honble Supreme Court. It may also be pointed out that an order, issued in exercise of the power conferred by the Constitution of India, cannot become untenable solely on the ground that such an order was not issued on previous occasions. I am further directed to inform that the Commission fails to find any valid reason for rescinding the order under reference. Sd/Secretary W.B. State Election Commission

Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2013
General Editor
George Mathew

Thirty-five chapters written by academics and senior officials with inputs from the research team of the Institute of Social Sciences

Special Features
Each chapter on States and Union Territories includes socio-economic profiles with latest statistics on area, demography, economy, education, health, poverty, access to potable water, public distribution system, etc; District and Block level data; conformity Acts - strength, weakness, amendments, elections; devolution of powers; State Finance Commission - constitution, reports, present status; District Planning Committees achievements and overall functioning; womens participation; reservation for backward classes - specific problems; bureaucracy and panchayats nature of relationship, areas of friction, cooperation, problems and prognosis; maps showing district boundaries and many other vital informations. In brief, all that one wants to know about panchayats in India today.

Published for

Institute of Social Sciences


by

Concept
Institute of Social Sciences 8 Nelson Mandela Road New Delhi 110 070 Tel: +91-11-43158800/43158801 Fax: +91-11-43158850 Email: issnd@issin.org; website: www.issin.org Concept Publishing Co. A-15/16 Co. Block, Mohar Garden New Delhi 110 059 Tel: +91-11-25351460/25351794 Fax: +91-11-25357109 Email: publishing@conceptpub.com

Institute of Social Sciences

Оценить