Mamata Banerjee asks whether election dates were announced as per suggestions of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah

The West Bengal Chief Minister said that the Election Commission should not see West Bengal “through the eyes of the BJP”.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on February 26 questioned the rationale behind Election Commission of India holding the 2021 Assembly polls in the State in eight phases.

“West Bengal has 294 seats. Why will elections be held here in eight phases? This is for the benefit of whom? There should be some rationale behind the decision,” Ms. Banerjee said hours after the ECI announced dates for Assembly polls in the State.

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This is the first time that the elections in West Bengal are held in eight phases. The earlier occasion when West Bengal went to polls with the highest number of phases was during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when polls were conducted in seven phases. The Chief Minister, who is also chairperson of Trinamool Congress, said that these dates are as per the requisition of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

She raised strong objections with elections being held in South 24 Parganas district in different phases. “In South 24 Parganas, since we are strong, elections are held in three phases… Is it at the instructions of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah,” she asked. Raising questions on the appointment of police observers, Ms. Banerjee said that one of them was deployed in State in 2019 Lok sabha polls.

The Trinamool Congress chief said that the Election Commission should see West Bengal “as their own State and not through the eyes of the BJP”. She said that even in “the 23-day election game”, she will defeat the BJP as she is from the grassroots. “ I know the very nooks and corners of West Bengal very well, and will foil all conspiracy,” she said.

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Welcoming the eight-phase polls, the BJP, however, said that it was a matter of shame that West Bengal had to have elections in so many phases and it was because of the history of political violence. “Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be mistaking Election Commission of India with the State Election Commission, which has been working at the whims and fancies of the State government and we have seen the results in local polls,” State BJP spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya said. Mr. Bhattacharya said while in Opposition Ms. Banerjee had been demanding that Assembly polls in the State should be held in several phases with deployment of central forces.

Kaliash Vijayvargiya, party observer to the State, said that all political parties in the Opposition were making demands that polls be spread across several phases. “There is also an urgent need to arrest those with criminal antecedents particularly in bordering areas,” Mr. Vijayvargiya said.

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The Left partiers and Congress also welcomed the ECI decision. They said that adequate central forces should be deployed well in advance to ensure that the polls are held free and fair. Communist Party of India ( Marxist) leader Md. Salim said that the eight-phase polls reflect the law and order situation in the State. He also emphasised that more than increasing number of phases, the election machinery should be active on days of the election to ensure free and fair polls.

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