Trinamool wants panchayat polls before Ramadan, may move SC

Kolkata, June 29 (IANS) With the West Bengal panchayat polls slated to be held during Ramadan starting mid-July, the ruling Trinamool Congress Saturday said it may move the Supreme Court to end the exercise before the Muslim holy month. The opposition parties blamed the government for the "inconvenience" that may be caused to the minorities.

The State Election Commission (SEC) refused to be drawn into the matter.

"With the polls slated to be conducted during the month of Ramzan (Ramadan), we are planning to appeal before the Supreme Court seeking an order for the conclusion of the elections before the holy month sets it," Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee said here.

Banerjee, who appeared as a counsel for the Bengal government in the legal battle against SEC over the panchayat polls, said if the polls were conducted during Ramadan, it would inconvenience Muslims.

"We always wanted the panchayat polls to be concluded before Ramzan sets in, but because of the SEC, all our efforts have gone in vain," said Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim.

The apex court Friday directed the panchayat elections be held July 11, 15, 19, 22 and 25. The polls were earlier scheduled to be held in three phases from July 2. The Muslim holy month begins in the second week of July.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed discontent with the court ordering the polls be held during Ramadan.

"We did not want it. But sometimes, we have to accept under compulsion when there is a court order," Banerjee said.

State Election Commissioner Mira Pandey said the panel had no comment to offer on the issue.

She said the poll process would have to be completed by following all directives of the Supreme Court. "The verdict is very clear."

"Don't offices remain open during the month of Ramzan?" asked Pandey.

The opposition Left Front and the Congress alleged that the state government had adopted time-wasting tactics to hold the elections without proper security.

"We have been repeatedly asking the government to ensure the polls are not held during Ramzan, but it chose not to pay heed to our requests. They should have raised the matter before the Supreme Court, but inexplicably they did not," said Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra.

Left Front spearhead CPI-M's state secretary Biman Bose said: "The current regime had created uncertainty over the polls by repeatedly ignoring the SEC's recommendations."

"They delayed matters so as to hold the elections without arranging for proper security. The SEC finally went to the Supreme Court which intervened to announce the schedule," he said.

"The Trinamool government is solely responsible for the inconvenience that the minorities will face," said Bose.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya echoed Mishra's views and blamed the state government.

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