THE Election Commission Saturday announced bypolls for four Assembly constituencies, including the Bhabanipur seat in West Bengal from where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is set to contest, on September 30.
Having lost in the state polls earlier this year, Banerjee needs to get elected to the West Bengal Assembly by November 5. A few days ago, the CM had urged the EC to immediately announce dates for the pending bypolls as the Covid-19 situation was under control, adding that “the democratic rights of people should not be curtailed”.
Apart from Bhabanipur, polling for three “deferred adjourned” elections — in Samserganj and Jangipur in West Bengal and Pipli in Odisha — will also be held on September 30. Counting will be on October 3. Elections in these seats could not be held due to various reasons, including the death of candidates during electioneering earlier this year. The EC said since candidates and political parties for these three seats have already “availed” the campaign period from April 29 to May 3, campaigning will only be allowed from September 20 here.
Bypolls for 31 other constituencies, including in Maharashtra, Telangana and a few northeastern states, have, however, been deferred in light of the Covid situation, floods and coming festivals.
Bhabanipur is Banerjee’s traditional constituency, which she had given up to take on rebel leader Suvendu Adhikari from Nandigram. After the polls, the TMC candidate who had won from Bhabanipur, Shovandev Chattopadhyay, had vacated the seat, ostensibly for Banerjee, who lost in Nandigram.
The Commission’s announcement on Saturday followed a meeting it held on September 1 with chief secretaries, senior officers of health and home affairs departments, DGPs and chief electoral officers of 16 states and one Union territory to discuss the feasibility of holding pending parliamentary and Assembly bypolls.
In its press release Saturday, the EC said that at the meeting, the chief secretaries of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan had cited constraints in holding elections due to flood situation, festivals and the pandemic. “They suggested that it would be advisable to have bye-elections after the end of the festival season,” the EC said.
However, chief secretaries of Odisha and West Bengal had said that the Covid situation was under control and that they were ready to hold the elections. Further, the EC said, the West Bengal official had informed “that in view of administrative exigencies and public interest and to avoid vacuum in the state”, by-elections for Bhabanipur should be conducted.
The EC said the decision to hold polls to the four Assembly seats was based on these inputs.
The panel said the polls would be held under Covid protocols, including restricted numbers for campaigning, and curtailed time period for campaigning. Only double-vaccinated officials will be deployed for polling duty. Anyone found violating the norms would be barred from campaigning. The EC said it also held the right to tighten the protocol in case the situation demands so.
While the TMC welcomed the move, and started putting up hoardings of Banerjee in Bhabanipur area Saturday itself, state BJP leaders asked why polls were not being held in all the seven Bengal seats that are vacant.
The CPM and Congress, however, welcomed the EC’s decision. “We also wanted a timely by-election,” CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said, while asking when the state would hold the municipal polls. Congress state president Adhir Chowdhury said, “It is better to hold elections on time.”
With inputs from ENS, Delhi