Trinamool boycotts poll meet, Mamata wants revenge democratically

Kolkata, July 6 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Saturday accused the State Election Commission of taking decisions at its "whims and fancies" and vowed to take revenge "democratically", hours after her Trinamool Congress boycotted a meeting called by the panel.

The opposition parties lambasted Banerjee and her party for targeting a constitutional body and staying away from the crucial all-party deliberations.

Addressing a party panchayat poll rally at Joynagar in neighbouring South 24 Parganas district, Banerjee took exception to the elections being scheduled in the month of Ramadan and even on a Friday during the Muslim holy month.

"The polls are being held during Ramadan. Had it been held during the Durga Puja, would we have liked it? Ramadan is equally important for the Muslims. They fast from the morning. How can they vote?" she asked.

The Trinamool chief was particularly aghast over the third leg of the five-phase polls being slated for July 19, a Friday.

"How can they schedule the vote on a Jummabar in the month of Ramadan? They (the poll panel) are not listening to us on any matter. They are doing everything by force, according to their whims and fancies," Banerjee said.

Raising her pitch, the chief minister said: "I will take revenge democratically. Do they know how many examinations had to be cancelled? They don't bother to discuss anything. It is only opportunism. "

Earlier in the day, Trinamool representatives did not turn up at the meeting called by the Commission. All opposition parties including the Congress, the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party attended the discussions which started half an hour late due to the ruling party's absence.

Banerjee said her party stayed away as the election commission was taking decisions "unilaterally".

"Why should we attend it? Did they talk to us even once before scheduling the polls during Ramadan? They have declared July 29 as the date of counting. But we have to pass the budget by July 31. How can we do it?"

Trinamool secretary general and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee said the commission had been informed in advance about his party's decision.

Expressing surprise over the Trinamool opting to stay away from the discussions, CPI-M state secretariat member Rabin Deb said: ""The government is challenging the election system and the powers of the State Election Commission."

Senior state Congress leader Manas Bhunia said the action smacked of the ruling party's "undemocratic and unconstitutional mentality".

Alleging that the state government was not implementing orders given by the panel on taking actions against errant officers, Bhunia advised the SEC to take legal opinion on the running of the administration during the polling process.

BJP state president Rahul Sinha termed the chief minister's comments as "unfortunate".

"If a chief minister talks in such a language about a constitutional body, then one can easily understand where the state will head in future. This is unprecedented. I have never heard about a ruling party boycotting an all-party meeting."

"The message that will go down to the administration and the police is that the government does not recognize the SEC'S authority," said Sinha.

Relations between the Trinamool Congress government and the SEC has nosedived over the past three months over a plethora of issues concerning the panchayat polls. With the two locked in tussles over the right to announce the poll schedule and arrangement for adequate security.

The matters reached the court, and finally the Supreme Court announced five-phase polling July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25. Ramadan begins from the second week of July.

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