Nominations done in West Bengal, Oppn says bracing for next battle: threats to withdraw

However, as per the Opposition, their battle to feature on the ballot paper has not ended yet. They are claiming widespread pressure on their candidates now to withdraw their nomination, with the state police providing little security. The state government has gone to the Supreme Court against a High Court order to deploy Central forces.

On Saturday, the convoy of Union minister Nisith Pramanik was attacked, allegedly by TMC workers, in Cooch Behar district, while he was on his way to the Block Development Office where scrutiny of nomination papers was on. The minister claimed he went there following reports of TMC activists “blocking the road to the BDO office and engaging in malpractice”.

According to data released by the State Election Commission, 56,321 BJP candidates had filed nominations by close of date on Thursday, and 48,646 of the CPI(M), for the total 73,887 seats which will see elections across the three-tier panchayat system.

In 2018, only 29,528 BJP candidates and 22,981 CPI(M) nominees had managed to file nominations, according to SEC officials. Hundreds among them had gone on to later withdraw their nominations, which ended up with the TMC winning 34% of the seats uncontested.

This number had eclipsed by far the previous high in the state, from 2003 when, under the CPI(M)-led Left Front government, 11% of the panchayat seats had been won uncontested. In 2008, the last panchayat polls held under the Left, the proportion of uncontested seats was 5.47%. In 2013, the first panchayat polls under the Mamata government, the TMC had won 10% of the seats uncontested.

Opposition parties are demanding now that the SEC, which they accuse of bias, reduce the days allowed for withdrawal of nominations.

However, the SEC is unlikely to do that, with the withdrawal duration in line with previous years. A senior SEC official said: “In 2013, the last date of scrutiny was June 7, and the last date of withdrawal was June 10. In the last panchayat elections (2018), the gap was more, from April 11 to April 16. This time, it has actually decreased from that, as it is between June 17 and June 20.”

The gap between the last day of nominations and the first day of withdrawals is two days, which is the usual.

Apart from the Cooch Behar incident involving Pramanik, there were reports from the Chaltaberia panchayat area of Jayanagar of a Left-backed Independent facing threats to withdraw, allegedly from the TMC. The CPI(M) claimed that the candidate, Subrata Gayen, had not been able to return home since submitting the nomination, because of fear of the ruling party.

There were reports of his mother getting a visit from some miscreants on Thursday night, with a gift of a garland of flowers and a white sari (a symbol of widowhood).

In Baruipur, the BJP claimed its candidate was facing threats from TMC district leaders, with her husband beaten up severely. The party has filed a complaint at the Baruipur Police Station. Local TMC leaders denied any hand in the incident.

At Chapra in Nadia, the CPI(M) claimed one of its candidate’s houses was broken into by TMC workers. While the candidate is reportedly missing since then, five members of the family are hospitalised. Local TMC leaders refused to comment on the incident.

Claims of intimidation by the ruling party were also made in Bhagwantpur 1 and Krishnapur panchayat areas of Chandrakona 2 block in West Medinipur, by the CPI(M) and Indian Secular Force (ISF), who talked of night visits by “civic volunteers”.

BJP state president Sukanta Majumder said: “The TMC plans to get at least 20,000 nominations by BJP candidates withdrawn. But, they will not be successful. We will resist.”

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “In a democratic set-up, every person has the right to fight elections. Once a person has filed the nomination, the administration and SEC should give him proper security. But, in West Bengal, if a person has filed nomination, his or her and their families are left vulnerable. This is the most unfortunate part.”

As for the fact that they have managed to file twice the nominations compared to 2018, the BJP and CPI(M) said the surge was indicative of the “diminishing popularity” of the TMC.