Saturday, 18 September, 2021

Mamata to contest by-polls on Sept 30

NEW DELHI: A by-polls for the Bhabanipur Assembly seat in West Bengal - the seat Mamata Banerjee will contest and must win to remain Chief Minister - will be held on September 30, the Election Commission said on Saturday afternoon, reports NDTV.

Votes will be counted on October 3, the poll body said in its notification, which also announced by-polls dates for two other seats in Bengal (Samserganj) and (Jangipur), as well as Pipli in Odisha.

However, by-polls for 31 other constituencies - including those in Maharashtra, Telangana and a few northeastern states - have been deferred in light of the Covid situation.

“... considering the constitutional exigency and special request from the state of West Bengal, it has (been) decided to hold bypoll for AC 159 - Bhabanipur. Much stricter norms have been kept by the Commission as an abundant caution to safeguard from COVID-19,” the top poll body said.

“After taking into consideration the inputs and views of Chief Secretaries of the concerned states, and the respective Chief Electoral Officers, the Commission has decided not to hold bypolls in other 31 Assembly constituencies and 3 Parliamentary constituencies,” it added.

Covid cases in Bengal (and other poll-bound states) spiked during campaigning and voting earlier this year; in Bengal daily new cases reached a peak of over 20,000 in mid-May.

As of this morning though, the seven-day average of daily new cases is below 640.

The Bengal government has insisted its bypolls to be held, submitting that the pandemic is under control in the state. In June Ms Banerjee also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the bypolls, saying “... when PM gives instructions, Election Commission will act...”

The government’s pushing for the bypolls has been criticised by the BJP; last month state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh asked Mamata why she was “in such a hurry”.

Mamata’s Trinamool Congress claimed an emphatic victory in the April-May election, winning 213 of a total of 294 seats in the Bengal Assembly, but she lost her individual contest.

The Chief Minister had given up her stronghold of Bhabanipur to contest from Nandigram - a high-profile clash with the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, her former lieutenant.

She was beaten by fewer than 2,000 votes after an incredibly tight and controversial race, the result of which has been challenged in the Calcutta High Court.

Mamata has asked for Adhikari’s election to be declared void under on three grounds - commission of corrupt practices, seeking of votes on basis of religion, and booth capture.

She has also questioned the Election Commission’s decision to reject her plea for a recount.

Last month the court adjourned hearing of the petition till November, after Adhikari’s lawyers said he had approached the Supreme Court seeking a transfer of the case.

In May, days after election results were announced, the Trinamool said the MLA who won from Bhabanipur - Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay - had resigned to allow Banerjee to contest.

Like Mamata, Chattopadhyay, who is the state’s Agriculture Minister, has six months to win another seat and retain his post. That six-month period is expected to expire in November.

According to news agency PTI, Chattopadhyay is expected to contest from Khardah, which fell vacant after the Trinamool’s Kajal Sinha died after contracting the coronavirus.