Bengal poll row: Is Trinamool afraid of an adverse mandate?

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Mamata Banerjee
Kolkata, March 29: The refusal by the West Bengal state election commission (SEC) to notify the ballot till it expressed satisfaction with security arrangements threw the state government's plan to hold the first phase of the panchayat polls on April 26 into uncertainty.

The SEC, in its second official letter to the government in the past week, said its plan to hold the polls under the supervision of central forces could not be compromised. The state government is not in favour of holding the elections under the central forces for it cited poor financial conditions and said the law and order situation in the state wasn't that bad.

A faint possibility of a solution to the continuing crisis was seen on Tuesday when the government revised the break-up of districts in two phases but the stalemate over security took the situation back to where it belonged.
The SEC was concerned on the government's reply on the deployment of forces. In its replying letter, the government said that it would deploy two armed policemen on each ‘poll premises'.

‘Premises' refer to a cluster of booths and it means that the government would not be able to provide at least one armed securityman for each of the 57,000 plus booths as it had indicated earlier. The SEC has said that the letter doesn't explain how the government plans to make up for the shortfall as the 44,000-strong state police can not cover the rural polls on its own.

Governor M K Narayanan, who intervened on Thursday to push the government to revise its poll plan, will make another effort to break the deadlock so that the fight doesn't reach the courts and put the rural governance in the state in a jeopardy.

He is scheduled to meet state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and SEC chief Mira Pandey on Friday. Pandey had met Narayanan twice on Thursday and told him why the panel couldn't compromise on the question of security. She later told reporters that the talks were fruitful.

A top SEC official said there was no question of compromising on the demand for central forces. He said the SEC had sought 800 companies of CRPF, 300 of them during the nomination process itself. The government said it was not possible for it would incur an additional cost of Rs 350 crore.

Mukherjee, who said there wasn't much difference between the two letters sent by the SEC. On the second letter, the minister said the second letter did not mention how many companies of central forces would be required to conduct the rural polls. He said a meeting would be convened by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in which the law secretary and panchayat secretary will be present. He said the state government's next move will be decided after the meeting.

The government and the SEC have also locked horns over the number of poll phases.

The question is: Why the state government is refusing to soften its stand on the panchayat poll issue? The way the Banerjee government has struggled to keep up to the task of governance since it came to power in the state in 2011, is the ruling party apprehensive about a debacle and hence not ready to face an adverse mandate?

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