Controversy hits Mamata government over counting of votes in three civic bodies
GN Bureau | October 8, 2015
Elections always highly competitive in India but the manner in which West Bengal changed its election commissioner raises many questions. On Wednesday, Alapan Bandyopadhyay cut short his official tour of Bhutan with chief minister Mamata Banerjee and flew into Kolkata to take over as the state's new election commissioner.
Bandyopadhyay is currently transport secretary and he has replaced Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay. Upadhyay had resigned on Tuesday, apparently under pressure from the ruling Trinamool Congress which had challenged his decision to put off indefinitely counting for civic polls to three civic bodies on Saturday - Salt Lake, Asansol and Bally. The opposition had complained of widespread rigging by the Trinamool in the polls.
After he assumed charge as the interim state election commissioner, Bandyopadhyay affirmed that he has taken over his new assignment sans "any pre-conceived notion".
The opposition parties criticised Bandopadhyay's appointment as "unconstitutional", arguing that a serving IAS officer was in no position to do justice to the high constitutional post as he was not in a position to go against the wishes of the government which was his superior authority. Normally, retired bureaucrats are appointed as election commissioners. Many have questioned if it would be possible for Bandyopadhyay, a serving government officer, to function independently.
"I have come here on the orders of the state government following the vacancy created by the sudden resignation of SR Upadhyay. I will take charge in accordance with the order. I know nothing about my new role. I have not come with any pre-conceived notions," said Bandyopadhyay
He declined to comment on the controversy surrounding his appointment. "I have been appointed as the temporary election commissioner in a given state of evolved circumstances. My job is to finish the task initiated by my predecessor.
"Greater questions I am not immediately engaged with," he said. Bandhyopadhyay said he should not be "dragged" into the debate surrounding his appointment.
"The government of West Bengal, invoking a particular legal provision, has appointed me as the temporary election commissioner. I have complied with that order and the government will decide whether I will continue as transport secretary or not. I will comply with that order.
"Since when has lawful compliance of a lawful order of a lawfully constituted government been an offence? I have been complying with a lawful order of a lawful process."
"I don't think you should drag me into that process... what have I done," posed Bandhyopadhyay.
Bandhyopadhyay, a former journalist, however, announced that there would be no repoll on Thursday.
But he kept speculation rife of a possible repoll by declining to comment on the issue later on.
"All such questions are under examination. I need some more time to answer those questions," he said in response to queries on evidence of violence during polls.
He also refused to give a straight answer on the proposed counting on October 9. "The matter is being examined."
The state government forwarded Bandyopadhyaya's name to Governor KN Tripathi, who approved of it and appointed the bureaucrat to the high post. On Tuesday, Upadhyay went to Raj Bhavan and submitted his resignation.
"I have been told that as per law, the state government has issued an order. I have been asked to carry out the order. It is possible in terms of the law," he said, adding, "Lawfully, if a government issues an order, it has to be carried out by a government servant."
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