West Bengal Panchayat polls: How a stronger EC could have prevented the stand-off
With the West Bengal Panchayat elections still mired in uncertainty, the State Election Commission decided to move the Supreme Court on Wednesday. In the entire row, the role of the state election commissioner Amarendra Kumar Singh has come under criticism from the Opposition.
The Opposition parties as well as political analysts have compared Singh's role with that of former election commissioner Meera Pandey, who handled the Panchayat election of 2013. Pandey is said to have refused to give in to the state government and even moved the court on the deployment of Central forces. Contrary to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's wishes, Pandey wanted the elections to be held in multiple phases under the supervision of central security forces. A war of words followed and Pandey went to court. The court went with the SEC.
According to Amol Mukherjee, former principal of Presidency College, Pandey’s precise knowledge of the Constitution meant the she knew what she was doing when she challenged the state government and moved to the Supreme Court for deployment of Central forces during the Panchayat election. But Singh is totally dependent on state government and he cannot take any decision on his own that will save the face of both the state government and SEC. As a result, the Commission is facing legal hassles.
Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who approached the Calcutta High Court for the CPI(M), said “ The State Election Commissioner is acting according to the whims and fancies of the state government . This is undesirable. In 2013, Pandey was at loggerheads with the state government and she moved the Supreme Court regarding deployment of Central forces in the rural elections. She knew the constitutional obligations very well unlike the present Commissioner and never tried to draw the attention of any senior minister or even top bureaucrats. She didn't aspire for any top post but worked as a silent and sincere officer, who never shirked from her responsibilities.”
Imankalyan Lahiri, professor of International Relations Jadavpur University said, “We are witnessing such a situation for the first time in which the state election commission is facing a series of Court verdict five days ahead of the scheduled date of election. Voters are still in the dark on whether elections will be held as per schedule. This has happened primarily because the state election commissioner has failed to discharge his duties properly.
Remembering Pandey's tenure, Lahiri said “Pande had shown great courage during her tenure as the state election commissioner and succeeded in providing a level playing field for all the parties”.
In his defence, Singh said “ It’s not right to comment anything about my predecessor. But I can say that I have not received any threat from the ruling political party or from Opposition parties during the poll process. I am just trying to discharge my duties properly.”
On the other hand, Pandey said “It’s unfortunate that so many people have been killed during filing of nominations. I feel that the duty of the state election commissioner is to provide a level playing field to all the parties and discharge duties accordingly.”
A Kolkata resident, Pandey was born on 22 July, 1949 and studied at the city's Loreto House school. She did her post-graduation in English from Jadavpur University. After becoming an IAS, she got an MSc in social planning from the London School of Economics.