INDIA. West Bengal: West Bengal is bracing itself for the upcoming panchayat elections scheduled to take place on July 8, 2023. However, in the lead-up to the polls, the state has witnessed a surge in violence across several districts.
The escalation in tensions stems from disputes over the filing of nominations, which began on June 9, shortly after the state election commission (SEC) announced the election schedule, set to conclude on June 15, 2023.
To address the growing concerns surrounding the electoral process, a bench led by Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam has taken proactive measures. The bench has ordered the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in all polling stations to deter any instances of manhandling. Additionally, the Calcutta High Court has mandated the deployment of Central paramilitary forces in seven sensitive districts.
This decision was made following petitions submitted by Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bengal, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the state Congress president. Both leaders sought an extension of the polling date and the deadline for filing nominations.
Despite the pleas put forth in the petitions, the court did not alter the election schedule. Instead, the judges recommended that polling be held on July 14, with the nomination filing window open from June 15 to June 21.
The state’s representative, Kalyan Banerjee, a lawyer and Trinamool Congress (TMC) lawmaker, expressed that the court rejected the petitioners’ demands for online filing of nominations or the use of social media apps for the process. Furthermore, the court declined to extend the daily timing for nomination filing, which remains from 11 am to 3 pm.
Following the High Court’s ruling, State Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi convened a meeting with SEC officials. Sujan Chakraborty, a central committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), criticized the SEC, stating, “The SEC is behaving like an arm of the state government, which should not be the case.” Chakraborty further expressed doubts about the court’s order being fully implemented.
Meanwhile, Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya emphasized the necessity of the state election commission collaborating with the police force and requisitioning the deployment of central forces to ensure the integrity and fairness of the upcoming elections.
As West Bengal prepares for the panchayat elections, the state and various stakeholders face the critical task of maintaining peace, safeguarding democratic processes, and conducting a transparent electoral exercise.