Election Commission Should Monitor Pre-Poll Process In Bengal To Stop Rigging, Merely Deploying More Central Forces Won’t Be Enough

Election Commission Should Monitor Pre-Poll Process In Bengal To Stop Rigging, Merely Deploying More Central Forces Won’t Be EnoughWest Bengal Elections
Snapshot
  • More than anything else, the ECI has to start scrutinising the electoral rolls right away.

    That’s because many areas of the state have witnessed a huge spike in the number of inclusions in the voters’ list and it is widely suspected that the state machinery, acting at the behest of the Trinamool, has included a large number of false voters in the rolls.

The Election Commission is planning a series of measures to ensure that the ensuing Assembly polls are conducted in a free and fair manner in Bengal, a state which is notorious for political violence and where polls have been blatantly rigged since the communist rule.

Deputy election commissioner Sudip Jain, who has been holding meetings with state officials, have told them that the poll body is “determined to ensure” smooth conduct of the polls.

At a meeting with district magistrates and police chiefs of districts on Wednesday, Jain said that a large number of central forces would be deployed in Bengal for the polls, which will be held in multiple phases.

It is learnt that Jain hinted to officials that the deployment of central forces would be the largest ever in the history of elections in Bengal. The number of central forces will be “higher than expected, and the highest in Bengal so far”, Jain is quoted to have told state officials.

Jain has also issued a strict warning to state officials while asking them to work impartially. “The Election Commission will summarily remove any state official found to be guilty of negligence or acting in a biased manner without waiting for an explanation from the errant official as is the norm now,” said Jain.

The commission has also asked police chiefs of districts and police commissioners of Kolkata and other metros in the state to send weekly updates on the law and order situation in the state.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) will undertake an extensive vulnerability mapping of all areas down to the polling booth level based on inputs from the state administration, various political parties and also on past poll experience.

Central forces will be deployed based on this vulnerability mapping. There will also be a sharp spike in the number of booths that the ECI designates as ‘sensitive’ and ‘highly sensitive’.

“The ECI is taking the conduct of polls in Bengal as a major challenge in view of the violence that routinely mars all elections in Bengal. A number of measures are being contemplated and a firm action plan will be put in place after the visit of the Commission’s full bench to the state next week,” said a senior state official.

However, merely deploying a large number of central forces and issuing warnings to state officials who are notorious for working as lackeys of ruling politicians is not going to be enough.

The ECI has to start scrutinising the electoral rolls right away. That’s because many areas of the state have witnessed a huge spike in the number of inclusions in the voters’ list and it is widely suspected that the state machinery, acting at the behest of the Trinamool, has included a large number of false voters in the rolls.

“Rigging the (electoral) rolls has been a favoured tactic of the Trinamool and before them the CPI(M). The state officials have not deleted names of people who passed away or have moved away. And a large number of false names have been included in the rolls. We have told the ECI that Trinamool goons will cast votes in the names of these ghost voters,” said state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta pointed out that in many areas of the state, there has been an abnormal rise in the number of new names included in the revised electoral rolls.

This increase is as much as 9.6 per cent in the number of inclusions (new voters) in the rolls in some areas. Districts with a large Muslim presence like Malda, Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri, Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur and Uttar and Dakshin 24 Parganas have seen an abnormal rise in the number of new voters.

“The ECI should start scrutinising the electoral rolls, especially of areas which have seen an abnormal rise in the number of new voters,” said BJP’s Ghosh.

“Spot checks and sample physical verification will reveal the anomalies. The ECI should not only ensure that the electoral rolls are free of bogus voters, but should also take exemplary disciplinary action against those state officials who have rigged the rolls in order to send a stern message,” said Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya.

Also, deployment of a huge number of central forces is not enough to prevent rigging of the poll process by the ruling party and its army of subservient poll officials.

“The central forces are placed under the state police and that limits their effectiveness. The state police should not have any control over central forces during elections and poll observers appointed by the ECI should be put in charge of these forces,” said a senior BJP leader.

The ECI has to appoint a large number of poll observers, ideally one for each subdivision. These observers (officials from the Union Government or other states) should interact closely with opposition parties and act promptly on the latters’ complaints.

“The ECI should strictly monitor the conduct of these observers. The ECI should also be given powers to take permanent action against state officials found guilty of acting at the behest of the ruling party. At present, the ECI can only transfer them. But if the ECI is given powers to make adverse remarks in the annual confidential reports of such officials to mar their prospects, officials will be deterred from acting as poll agents of the Trinamool,” said BJP’s Ghosh.

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said that only central forces should be present in polling stations and should be empowered to arrest and take action against any politician or political worker found to be flouting rules.

The ECI has rightly said that conducting elections in a free and fair manner in Bengal is a major challenge. Because in no other state is the election process rigged so extensively and violence and threats used to silence not only voters and opposition parties, but also poll officials who are perceived to be impartial.

But the ECI has to go much beyond deploying a huge number of central forces, conducting the elections in multiple phases and issuing instructions to state officials.

It should start scrutinising the electoral rolls right away and ensure that the rolls are error-free. That will lay the ground for the smooth conduct of elections in Bengal.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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