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Oppn parties close ranks behind Mamata, slam EC's Bengal move

Oppn parties close ranks behind Mamata, slam ECs Bengal move

NEW DELHI: A day after the Election Commission cut short campaigning in Bengal for the last round of the national election over violence during BJP president Amit Shah's roadshow in Kolkata, opposition parties closed ranks behind Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and accused the election body of submitting to the ruling party.

Mayawati, coming out in strong support of Mamata Banerjee, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and other BJP leaders of "planned targeting" of the Bengal Chief Minister in a "disgusting" and dangerous manner. "This is unbecoming of Prime Minister of the country," the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader said.

The Election Commission Wednesday said campaigning would end at 10 pm on Thursday instead of 5 pm on Friday because of the clashes during which a statue of iconic reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was smashed. Mamata Banerjee accused the election body of an "undemocratic and biased decision" that benefited the ruling BJP because the campaign ban would start right after the Prime Minister was done with his rallies in Bengal.

Mayawati echoed the view. "The Election Commission has banned campaigning in West Bengal, but from 10 pm Thursday just because the PM has two rallies in the day. If they had to ban then why not from Thursday morning? This is unfair and EC is acting under pressure," she said.

Accusing the Election Commission of going against all norms of democratic fair play, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said, "The EC's decision to call off campaigning in Bengal is against all norms of democratic fair play. I fully support @MamataOfficial ji in her fight to stop the undemocratic march of the two and a half men who have used and abused every institution of our country for their own gain."

TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu too threw his weight behind Mamata Banerjee."It is disturbing to see prompt action by the ECI on a complaint by the BJP and Amit Shah in West Bengal, while conveniently ignoring the complaints of TMC," Chandrababu Naidu tweeted.

The Congress called the election panel's move "an unpardonable betrayal of the constitution" and alleged that the poll body had "become a pawn in the hands of the Modi-Shah duo."

The order was aimed "solely at giving a free pass to the PM's rallies," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, questioning whether the MCC (Model Code of Conduct) had become "Modi Code of Misconduct".

Acknowledging the support, Mamata Banerjee tweeted, "Thanks and gratitude to @Mayawati, @yadavakhilesh, @INCIndia, @ncbn and others for expressing solidarity and support to us and the people of Bengal. EC's biased actions under the directions of the BJP are a direct attack on democracy. People will give a befitting reply." The BJP says the Election Commission's decision is a validation of their complaint that Bengal has descended into anarchy. Union Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted Wednesday evening: "A constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India, has effectively held Bengal to be a state in anarchy. Repeatedly escalating violence, state-supported vandals, partisan police and home department are the illustrations the ECI has given."

For the first time, the powerful election body used Article 324 of the Constitution - which gives it the powers of "superintendence, direction and control of elections" - to restrict campaigning. So far, the rule has been used to cancel or postpone elections or punish candidates.

Besides truncating the campaign for the nine seats in Bengal voting on May 19, the election panel also ordered the removal of two senior officers.

Mamata Banerjee said, "Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP".

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