Bengal: Covid-19 scare to civic polls – TMC, BJP for postponement

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State Election Commissioner Saurabh Das has convened the meeting to decide the civic poll dates. Leaders of 10 major political parties have been invited.

As the country is grappling with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), the TMC and BJP finally seem to be on the same page over the dates of the upcoming civic polls — a rarity between the two rivals.

The two parties are likely to ask the West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) to postpone civic polls at an all-party meeting at its office here on Monday.

State Election Commissioner Saurabh Das has convened the meeting to decide the civic poll dates. Leaders of 10 major political parties have been invited.

“The All India Trinamool Congress will appeal to the State Election Commision of West Bengal to defer the upcoming municipal corporation elections in light of the Covid-19 crisis. We urge all political parties to join hands and fight this together,” said a TMC statement on Sunday.

West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh demanded that the civic polls be postponed in the wake of coronavirus.

“Tomorrow (Monday), the fate of the civic polls will be discussed keeping in view of the present situation in the country. It is the duty and responsibility of the state government to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. It will also have to ensure that political parties are given adequate time for campaigning and people exercise their franchise fearlessly. We feel that the administration will take a decision (on elections) after considering the present circumstances. If the situation turns grave, the elections should be postponed,” Ghosh told reporters here.

Elections are due in nearly 110 civic bodies in the state.

The state government had earlier proposed to hold the polls between April 12 and 26. However, the BJP had objected to the proposed dates, saying the suggested schedule would not leave enough time for campaigning.

State Parliamentary Affairs Minister and TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee on Sunday admitted that the present situation was a matter of concern.

“There is a meeting tomorrow and the state election commission will take a decision in this regard after discussing the matter with all the parties. We have already discussed the matter within our party. We have also heard others urging that the election be postponed. It is no doubt an unprecedented situation. Let us see what happens tomorrow,” said Chatterjee.

TMC sources said the party leadership was likely to demand postponement of the civic polls.

Both the CPM and Congress too will share their opinions on the civic polls in the meeting. “We will discuss the matter tomorrow and express our opinions in this regard,” said a senior CPM leader.

An SEC official had on Saturday expressed his concern over sticking to the government proposed dates to hold elections. “As of now, it’s very difficult to announce poll dates due to the coronavirus outbreak. Once the poll schedule is released, the campaign will start immediately. But, in this situation, any type of campaign means gathering, which is very dangerous in the current circumstances,” the official had said.

He had predicted that if normalcy did not return in the next 15 days, the polls could not be held until early June. The TMC government is said to be averse to holding elections during the holy month of Ramzan, starting from April 23.