New Delhi, Apr 6 (PTI) The BJP today told the Supreme Court that “democracy is being murdered” in West Bengal as ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) was engaged in large scale poll violence and not allowing its candidates to file nomination for the upcoming panchayat polls.
The West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party sought availability of nomination papers online, extension of the last date of filing these papers and deployment of paramilitary forces in the state in the run up to the polls scheduled in the first week of May.
A bench of Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre, which reserved its verdict for April 9, was told by the BJP that even the Congress, which is also aggrieved, has approached the Calcutta High Court for similar relief.
“This is the question of democracy. Even if I have not approached the High Court, I can come directly to the Supreme Court because it is a question of democracy. Actually, democracy is being murdered in West Bengal,” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for BJP, said on being questioned by the bench on why he did not approach the high court.
He said that party candidates were not getting the nomination papers for the panchayat elections, a fact that could be established from the data of election commission which showed that nominations filed by TMC candidates so far was more than the Left parties, BJP or the Congress.
“Ruling party is engaged in large scale poll violence. We are not getting nomination papers. I have videos which show the violence at many places. Parties (BJP and Congress) who are arch rivals, are aggrieved and seeking the same remedy. I must say that this is a troubled state,” Rohatgi said.
The senior lawyer tried to justify why he did not approach the high court, saying the work was paralysed there as lawyers were on strike from February 19 and advocates going to the court were being manhandled.
He said West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee President Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had appeared in person before the high court today, as the matter was being heard in the apex court seeking relief to allow Congress candidates to file nomination papers and setting aside of the poll notification.
“The last date for filing of nomination papers should be extended by couple of days and the only solution to avoid the physical ruckus is to make the nomination papers available online and ask Union of India to deploy the paramilitary forces in the state,” Rohatgi said.
Senior advocate P S Patwalia, also appearing for the saffron party leaders, said they do not want the elections to be cancelled but were seeking extension of the date of filing of nominations. “The date should be extended as there is large scale violence and democracy is being throttled,” he said.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the central government could deploy paramilitary forces if there was a requisition from the State Election Commission or a direction from the court.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for West Bengal, said the BJP’s petition was based on a wrong premise as there are several districts in which BJP candidates have filed more nomination papers than the ruling Trinamool Congress.
He said that he did not want to go into the allegation of poll violence “as we know which party has no ground in the state and who wants to foment violence there”.
“They just want a court order to make a splash in the media which would make the entire West Bengal go disarray. They have not made a single specific averment as to where the candidates were denied nomination papers or denied them,” he said.
Singhvi said the BJP counsel has “hit a self goal” as the data he gave to the court also says that in Midnapore, Jhargram and Purulia, their candidates have filed more nominations than the TMC candidates.
“Till now 28 FIRs have been filed in the state for sporadic violence. Who is fomenting trouble? You do it and then ask for paramilitary troops in the apex court”, said Singhvi, who was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal with TMC support.
He said it was a settled law that once the poll process has started, it cannot be tinkered with and if they have any grievances, they can easily file election petitions.
“There is a triple whammy in BJP’s petition. First, they cannot directly come to the Supreme Court, they should have first moved the State Election Commission, and thirdly, they should have made some specific averments of nomination papers not being allowed in a particular district,” Singhvi said.
The bench, after hearing the arguments, said it will pass orders on April 9.
The panchayat polls are scheduled to be held on May 1, 3, and 5. The votes will be counted on May 8. According to the notification, the last date of filing nominations is April 9 and the last date of scrutiny of the nominations is April 11.
The apex court had yesterday agreed to hear the matter today, considering the submission of Aishwarya Bhati, the counsel for BJP state general secretary Pratap Banerjee, that the last day for filing nominations was April 9.
It alleged that block development officers, appointed assistant panchayat electoral registration officers by the West Bengal State Election Commission, were refusing to give nomination forms to BJP candidates.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.