A delegation of the Left Front Committee, West Bengal led by chairman, Biman Basu and accompanied by the CPI(M) leaders in parliament, Sitaram Yechury and Basudev Acharia met the Election Commission of India on December 19, 2013 and submitted the following memorandum.
WE are approaching you to express our grave apprehensions at the situation in the state of West Bengal, which we consider is fast deteriorating, prohibiting the holding of any free and fair elections. The constitutional mandate to ensure that the Indian electorate exercises its democratic right in a free and fair manner rests with the Election Commission. We are approaching you with a request that you urgently intervene to ensure that the West Bengal electorate is permitted to exercise its democratic choice in a free and fair manner.
We are constrained to bring to your notice the following factors that create such widespread apprehension amongst the people of West Bengal.
ATTACKS AND INTIMIDATION
There are widespread reports that the leaders and the workers of the ruling party in the state – the All India Trinamool Congress – are engaged in large scale illegal and undemocratic activities aimed at intimidating people from exercising their democratic right. All norms so far considered sacrosanct during election period have been violated during the elections to the panchayats and municipal corporations. Officials of the State Election Commission (SEC), election observers, presiding officers, returning officers, etc., have also been at the butt of such attacks. It may be kindly recalled that SEC had to approach High Court and finally Supreme Court to get the election conducted with adequate security arrangements even though orders of the court were not implemented by the state government in their letter and spirit.
During the course of the election campaign to the local bodies, instead of SEC, conducted by the state administration, the ruling party in the state in collaboration with sections of the personnel of the general and police administration, has mounted a targeted attack against the workers and activists of opposition parties, particularly the CPI(M) and Left Front workers. Threats and intimidation were widely used to prevent the filing of the nomination, family members of the candidates who managed to file their nominations were kidnapped to force the withdrawal of nominations. There is a large scale deployment of armed motorcycle squads defying SEC and High Court order, threatening and intimidating opposition political workers all across the state. The areas around the polling stations are 'captured' and on the polling day, a large section of the polling personnel were forced to surrender. There are reports of large scale bogus casting of votes as no EVMs were deployed in these elections. The scale of rigging was so widespread that till date, i.e., many months of the polling, the SEC is yet to publish the final figure of votes secured by each candidate in some constituencies. The mockery of democracy has become so brazen that in some instances fresh polls were ordered even after the counting concluded in order to ensure the victory of the ruling party candidates. (Annexure 1)
To substantiate these points, we are enclosing media reports along with photographs and CD for your perusal. (Annexure 8-67)
Post-elections, the victorious opposition candidates, in particular those belonging to the Left Front, have been murderously threatened to either resign or join the ruling party in order to control the local bodies, where the ruling party did not manage to secure a majority. In the meantime, five elected panchayat members including three office-bearers were killed by the AITC goons. Further, in Haldia, Halisahar and Arambagh municipalities, covering districts of Purba Medinipur, North 24 Paraganas and Hooghly, the same tactics were adopted. It is to be noted that the Congress-run municipalities were also captured by the AITC in the same manner.
In fact the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Alipur Court was threatened and attacked by the ruling party lawyers. (Annexure 2)
Recently on December 8, 2013 a very senior leader of the Left Front, Naren Dey, former minister and leader of the All India Forward Bloc, aged 78 years was mercilessly attacked and seriously injured. He was not even given proper treatment and discharged from the state run hospital and had to be admitted in a private hospital in Kolkata, which issued a medical bulletin, detailing the serious nature of his injuries. (Annexure 3)
There are instances where even the judiciary has not been spared of such attacks. (Annexure 4)
Since the AITC has assumed the reins of the state government in May 2011 and upto November 2013, 142 leaders including two ex-MLAs and activists of the Left Front have been murdered in such attacks. Those grievously injured and hospitalised number 7,433. The incidents of rape and molestation, number 1,865. 46,937 people have been evicted from their normal dwellings. 5,547 houses of Left Front supporters were ransacked, looted and burnt. 2,170 Left Front party and mass organisation’s offices were either destroyed or captured. 302 educational institutions have been attacked and principals, teachers and senior staff were not spared of injuries. More than 85 student’s union offices were captured. 4,237 Left Front activists have been registered under false or fabricated cases. Of these 1,360 are still in judicial custody and the rest are not allowed to visit their own residences, some of them who are bailed out even prohibited to enter their home districts. The total number of those involved in false court cases are 54,938. Extortion of more than Rs 28 crores is so far reported from over 9,529 people. In the rural areas, nearly 3,500 cultivators have not been allowed to cultivate their own land in about 9,223 acres. Under the land reform legislation of the Left Front government, bargadars and patta holders were legally registered. Over 27,000 of them, covering an area of over 9,213 acres have today been forcefully evicted.
Other non-Left opposition parties even the dissidents within the ruling party were not spared from these attacks. One sitting Congress MLA was brutally attacked. In one case of a murder of one AITC leader alleged to be abated by local AITC MLA, the Kolkata High Court ordered a CBI enquiry.
Such are the consequences of the atmosphere of terror that has been created by the ruling party in the state of West Bengal.
In Annexure 5 we are submitting a marked map of terrorised and partly terrorised assembly constituencies in the state. We are also submitting the names of the ACs from where the Left Front workers, including common people have been forcibly evicted from their normal residences.
Media persons were attacked brutally on two occasions while they were covering acts of wanton violence. Two councillors of Kolkata Municipal Corporation belonging to AITC were arrested - one in the murder of a police personnel and another in the alleged murder of one AITC leader.
We are requesting the ECI to intervene to ensure that normalcy is restored in these areas, so that the electorate can discharge their democratic rights in a free and fair manner during the forthcoming 2014 general election in the country. Knowledgeable sources presume that another all-out attack may occur before ensuing Lok Sabha election as it was done on April 10, 2013 on some fictitious plea.
IMPROPER ATTITUDE OF CEO, WEST BENGAL
We are bound to draw your attention to the fact that the state CEO office appears to be functioning under intimidation by the state government and hence unable to discharge its proper role as an independent body. One particular instance will illustrate this general tendency. On August 29, 2013, we had represented the CEO, regarding the extension of the date for the period of claims and objections in 12 municipalities where elections were announced. Upon hearing no response, we sought the intervention of the ECI. Its only upon the issuance of the ECI notification number 23/WB/2013, dated September 18, 2013, wherein you had kindly notified the extension upto September 30, 2013 was such a request accepted. The said ECI notification mentions a letter by the CEO, West Bengal, dated September 16, 2013. Clearly therefore, while the Left Front had petitioned on August 29, the West Bengal CEO responded only after the intervention of the ECI on September 16.
There are several instances of such partisan attitude. For instance, it is only after the ECI notification that the SRER was extended last year to take into account the disruption due to festival holidays.
In Annexure 6, we furnish your letter of April 23, 2013, concerning complaints of errors in the ER with reference to three specific ACs. The CEO did not take any further action in this matter.
Further, there are instances of the state ruling party leaders being present at the video conferences being conducted by the CEO with DM and district electoral officers, which is a clear illegality. One such incident took place on October 29, 2013, where the sabhadhipati of the Bankura zilla parishad was so present.
There are widespread instances of paid news by the ruling party in both the electronic and print media. The projection of the chief minister and the ruling party candidates is brazen as evidenced in the by-election to 159 Bhabanipur AC. On September 12, 2011, the electronic media, “Channel 10”, organised one such programme conducted by Kunal Ghosh, who was rewarded subsequently to become a member of the Rajya Sabha representing the AITC. He is currently arrested and is in police custody as a prime accused in the massive Saradha Chit Fund scam.
On several occasions, the attention of the CEO, West Bengal was drawn to such instances. Instead of taking any action, they simply informed us that they had forwarded our complaints to the ECI. Unfortunately, no action had been taken till date. (Annexure 7)
We are constrained to draw your attention to all these facts, which are but a tip of an iceberg. We fully appreciate and completely support the efforts being made by the ECI through its campaign seeking 'greater participation for a stronger democracy'. We are delighted to note that this campaign had a positive impact as seen in the unprecedented turnout in the recent elections to the five state assemblies in the country.
If such an effort has to succeed in the state of West Bengal, then your urgent intervention is necessary to ensure that the above mentioned distortions and the sorry state of affairs is immediately corrected and an atmosphere conducive for a free and fair poll is created by instilling the required confidence in the West Bengal electorate that they can exercise their elementary democratic rights without the fear of terror and intimidation.
In the interests of upholding and safeguarding democracy in our country and in the interests of strengthening the vibrancy of our democratic society, we strongly urge you to urgently intervene and discharge your constitutional mandate appropriately to ensure the success of your own slogan, 'greater participation for a stronger democracy'.
(Annexures are not published - Ed)