Mamata-Mira tussle: nothing new about it! (West Bengal Newsletter)
The bitter tussle between West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government and the State Election Commissioner Mira Pande may have grabbed the national spotlight, but it is nothing new in a state where constitutional bodies and their heads have time and again come under attack from the political leadership.
Be it the erstwhile Left Front rulers or the current Trinamool dispensation, governors, Election Commissioners of India and even high court judges have faced the wrath of chief ministers or party stalwarts. But it is the first time that the State Election Commission - particularly Pande - has come under such verbal assault from the ruling party.
The intense feud moved to the legal corridor and finally the Supreme Court ordered five-phased polls under the vigilance of a mix of central and state security forces. The voting for phase one, covering West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts, was completed Thursday.
The run-up to the elections saw an unprecedented deadlock over the polls as the government and the commission were at loggerheads over issues like the right to announce the election schedule and the primacy to conduct the polls, besides the security arrangements.
However, even after the apex court's verdict, Chief Minister Banerjee has been coming down heavily on Pande over the poll schedule.
While her party accused Pande of "dancing like a puppet" to the tune of the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), she even went on to say that if the Trinamool government had two-third majority in the state assembly, it would have removed Pande.
Earlier, state Advocate General Bimal Chatterjee had likened the poll panel to a "beautiful woman throwing tantrums", while recently Transport Minister Madan Mitra said he did not find the commission "beautiful" and commented that after the polls it will "have to wear bangles and hide behind a veil".
The CPI-M and the Congress blasted the chief minister and the Trinamool for attacking Pande.
"It is unfortunate that she (Banerjee) has been relentless in her attack against a constitutional body and its head," said Surya Kanta Mishra, CPI-M leader and leader of opposition in the state assembly.
However, Mishra's party has been no saint with regard to attacks on election officials.
Marxist stalwart and long-time chief minister Jyoti Basu had once described the then chief election commissioner of India T N Seshan as a "megalomaniac".
At least two governors faced the fury of the comrades during the Left Front's 34-year stint in power.
Gopal Krishna Gandhi's tenure was marked by frequent clashes with the government over issues like the police firing on anti-land acquisition agitators in East Midnapore district's Nandigram March 14,2007 and the CPI-M's attempts to take control of the territory through alleged violence in November of the same year.
Earlier, in the 1980s, the LF had recurrent duels with governor A.P. Sharma on issues like appointment of vice chancellor to Calcutta University that promoted the ruling combine to raise the slogan "Sharma, Bangla choro" (Sharma, quit Bengal).
In 2003, when Calcutta High Court judge Amitava Lala passed an order restricting rallies on city roads on workdays, LF chairman Biman Bose had coined the slogan "Lala, Bangla chere pala" (Lala, quit Bengal).
Bose had to face contempt proceedings for his comment.
The Banerjee government has only continued the tradition.
Present governor M.K. Narayanan became a target of a senior cabinet minister after he rapped the government over political clashes in January, saying: "This is not a good political culture. I think some sort of goondaism is going on here."
A day later, Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee called Narayanan a "Congress-appointed constitutional head" and alleged he was "speaking like a politician".
According to political analyst Amartya Mukhopadhyay, the confrontations between the government and the state election commission arw an "ongoing tussle between representative bodies and constitutional authorities in the contradictory context of the parliamentary system where the constitution is the supreme".
"In national politics, constitutional bodies such as the Supreme Court were continuously expanding their area and one should see the working of the state election commission in such a context," Mukhopadhyay, a professor of political science at the Calcutta University, told IANS.
"Had you earlier heard any state election commissioner's name so often? No. That means the commission is expanding its presence in the state. And the process will continue," he observed.
(Mithun Dasgupta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 13-07-2013)