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Campaigning in Bengal to end a day early

Campaigning in Bengal to end a day early

NEW DELHI: In first such action in India's electoral history, the Election Commission on Wednesday ordered campaigning in nine West Bengal constituencies to end at 10 pm on Thursday, a day before its scheduled deadline, in the wake of violence between BJP and TMC workers in Kolkata.

In a hurriedly-convened press conference, Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said it was for the first time that such an action has been taken using constitutional powers of the poll panel.

The Election Commission (EC) also ordered the removal of Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya and Additional Director General, CID, Rajeev Kumar from their postings in West Bengal.

Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, who is in charge of West Bengal, said Bhattacharya "stands relieved" from his current charge immediately, "for having interfered in the process of conducting elections" by directing the state chief electoral officer, which he was not supposed to. The state chief secretary will look after the charge of the home secretary.

He said Rajeev Kumar has been attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs here and should report to his new assignment by 10.00 am Thursday.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the Commission's decision is "undemocratic" and it has "insulted the people of Bengal".

Calling the decision "unethical, unconstitutional, undemocratic and biased", Mamata said, "On Thursday, Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends... Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP".

The decision came as the political fight between the BJP and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee escalated over the vandalizing of a statue of iconic 19th-century reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

Both parties accused each other of inciting the violence and desecrating the statue.

There was a barrage of claims and counter-claims where video clips are flying from both sides, the BJP and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.

Amit Shah said Trinamool activists attacked his roadshow and it was Mamata Banerjee who had the Vidyasagar bust broken as part of a "conspiracy" to blame the BJP ahead of the last round of voting for the national election. Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien lobbed the allegation right back and called the BJP chief "Dhokabaaz".He also complained to the Election Commission, submitted what he called video proof that the BJP was behind the vandalism.

The bust was broken at the Vidyasagar College, which was on the route of the BJP president's rally.

"The gates were shut, our roadshow was outside, our workers were outside, the bust was inside a room, which would have presumably been locked. The keys must have been with the college management. How can we break the statue," Amit Shah questioned at a press conference in Delhi, displaying three photographs. The BJP chief also claimed his party workers were far from the gate of the Vidyasagar College.

The Trinamool, however, put out a video that shows workers - it says they were BJP supporters - climbing over the college railing and then rushing inside the campus. The video shows the group armed with stones and sticks.

Students of the college said the gate was broken, unlike the BJP's claim that it was intact.

An emotional Derek O'Brien of Trinamool, speaking at what he called the "saddest press conference we have held", said: "Amit Shah is a liar. We expect the media to make an assessment based on authentic videos."

The BJP chief in turn also accused the Election Commission of "double standards" for remaining a "mute spectator" to rigging and violation of the poll code in the state.

Hitting back at TMC's charge that the BJP was behind the violence, Shah said his party has been contesting elections in every state and is in power in 16, but it is only in West Bengal that violence is being seen.

Simontini Bhattacharjee

Simontini Bhattacharjee

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