Two-phase panchayat polls in Bengal next month

Kolkata, March 22 (IANS) The West Bengal government, which had locked horns with the state poll panel on the panchayat elections, Friday went a step ahead and announced the dates for the rural body polls.

Making the announcement, State Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee said the polls would be held in two stages with three districts going to the hustings April 30 and the rest of the districts holding the elections on April 26.
The ruling Trinamool Congress and the state poll panel, which conducts the elections to local bodies like the panchayats and the civic bodies, have for months battled over the panchayat polls.
While the commission recommended a three-phase voting and deployment of central paramilitary forces, the state government wanted a two-phase poll by pressing into service only the state police personnel.
The party had even accused state Election Commissioner Meera Pandey of being “biased” and asked the poll panel “not to cross its limits”.
The opposition Congress and the Left Front had demanded the conduct of the polls in at least three stages with the deployment of central forces.
The districts which go to polls April 26 are: Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, South Dinajpur, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Purulia, Howrah, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan and Hooghly.
The polls in North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad districts will be held April 30. Coincidently, the Congress has a strong presence in the above three districts.
“The decision to conduct only the polls in these three districts on a single day shows the government is trying all methods in its bid to dent the Congress bastion in the state,” state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said, reacting to the announcement.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had demanded a five-phase poll, threatened to move court against the decision.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretariat member Rabin Deb said the party would announce its stand after seeing the state election commission’s response.
“There is no difference in what has been announced and what had been earlier proposed by the state government except that initially they said three districts will go to polls in the first phase and the remaining in the second. Now, the reverse has been announced,” Deb said.