New Delhi, May 14: The highly-anticipated West Bengal Panchayat Elections 2018 will be held across 20 districts between 7 am and 5 pm amid tight security on Monday. Around 1,500 security personnel from Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh are in the state to reinforce security arrangements for the polls. They will aid around 46,000 personnel of the state police and 12,000 of the Kolkata Police, while the state government would use close to 2,000 security personnel from the departments of excise, prison and forests in manning the booths, West Bengal State Election Commission official said. Security forces yesterday conducted route marches in various parts of the state as part of security arrangements.

According to the reports nearly 5.08 crore voters —74% of total electors in the State will cast their franchise today. Notably, the polls were earlier scheduled between May 1 and May 7 but it was postponed to May 14, following violence-related incidents between Mamata Banerjee-led Trninamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres.

Three TMC workers were injured in a clash which broke out between the cadres of the two parties on May 8 in Gosaba village of South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. A TMC worker alleged that some BJP workers had attacked their three party cadres. after a BJP meeting over panchayat elections in the state. Following the clash, more than 30 houses of BJP workers were allegedly vandalised by the TMC workers on May 9. Last month, six policemen were injured in a BJP-TMC clash at Usti in South 24 Parganas district over the filing of nominations for the panchayat elections.

High-decibel campaign

The polls will be the last major elections in the state before 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The three-tier panchayat polls witnessed an acrimonious campaign with the opposition accusing the ruling TMC of unleashing a reign of terror during the nomination process for the polls. The TMC had termed the allegations as baseless, alleging that the opposition didn’t have a mass base and was trying to evade the polls. Although senior leaders of all the parties campaigned in the polls, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee refrained from campaigning. She had, however, appealed to the people of West Bengal to vote in favour of development ushered by her government.

Poll promises: 

The TMC in its campaign spoke of the various projects undertaken by the state government and its success in the MNREGA. The BJP, which is trying to emerge as the main challenger to TMC, has promised development in rural areas if it is voted to power. The CPI(M)-led Left Front and the Congress had appealed to the voters to defeat the TMC and BJP in Bengal.

Plethora of court cases

The opposition parties moved courts alleging violence and intimidation by the ruling Trinamool Congress during the nomination process. On April 20, the Calcutta High Court quashed the SEC order cancelling the notification for extension of deadline for filing nomination for panchayat polls in West Bengal and directed it to allow nominations by issuing a fresh notification.

The nomination process for the panchayat polls ended on April 9, but it was extended by a day by the SEC the same evening following a SC Court order on petitions alleging that candidates backed by Opposition parties were being prevented from filing nominations.

The ruling TMC had objected to the extension by the SEC. Later, the BJP moved the Supreme Court on April 11 and was directed to approach the High Court with its grievances over the deadline for filing nominations. The BJP moved the high court challenging the withdrawal and Justice Talukdar stayed the election process on April 12.

Apart from the BJP, the CPM, PDS and the Congress too have moved the High Court separately challenging the SEC’s decision. On May 8, the Calcutta high court had directed the commission to accept the nominations of those candidates named by CPM who had filed their papers electronically within the stipulated time before 3 pm on April 23. The Supreme Court had stayed the Calcutta high court order directing the poll panel to accept nomination papers filed through e-mail for contesting the panchayat elections in the state.

The Calcutta high court on May 10 also ruled that the commission and state officials would be held personally liable and have to pay compensation if the loss of life and property in the coming panchayat election was higher than that in the 2013 poll.

About the polling

According to the West Bengal State Election Commission , of the 48,650 seats in 3,358 gram panchayats, 16,814 were uncontested and of the 9,217 seats in 341 panchayat samitis, 3,059 were uncontested. In the 20 Zilla Parishads, 203 of the 825 seats were uncontested, the SEC said. The TMC has no opposition in 34 per cent of the seats. The results will be declared on Thursday, May 17.

(With agency inputs)