Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain Saturday held a series of meetings with leaders of political parties, election and state officials to review poll preparedness and take stock of the ground situation in West Bengal ahead of the general elections. Jain was in the city after a BJP delegation comprising senior leaders Nirmala Sitharaman, Ravi Shankar Prasad and J P Nadda on Wednesday urged the Election Commission to declare West Bengal a "super-sensitive" state to ensure free and fair polls.
After meeting him, ruling Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee told reporters that the BJP had taken recourse to "dishonest tactics" to suggest that peace was hampered in the state. Chatterjee said his party had apprised the EC that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) adopted the "ploy" to shield its own weakness and the saffron party's demand was nothing short of an insult to the state.
The Congress, however, demanded that all the booths be declared "sensitive". Intellectuals with leanings towards the TMC also met Jain and slammed the demand to declare the state "super-sensitive", saying it was a great insult to the people.
After the meeting, painter Shubhoprasanna told reporters that the demand was improper and the EC should not pay any heed to it. Economist Abhirup Sarkar said the demand would have ramifications and is best avoided. Poet Subodh Sarkar and filmmaker Arindam Seal were also present during the meeting.
BJP leader Mukul Roy, accompanied by senior leaders Shishir Bajoria and Jaiprakash Majumdar, said he had given evidence to the EC official about TMC chief Mamata Banerjee's demand of declaring all booths in West Bengal as "sensitive" in assembly elections of 2006 and 2011, besides Lok Sabha polls in 2009. Roy said that he has told Jain that for free and fair elections the West Bengal police should not be deployed.
Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya said his party had demanded that all booths in the state should be treated as "sensitive" and sufficient police be deployed during the counting process on May 23. He said the EC should act impartially and not get influenced either by the central or state governments.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders Rabin Deb and Sukhendu Panigrahi also placed gave suggestions and raised demands in the meeting. Apart from the political parties, Jain also held a meeting with district election officers (DEOs), superintendents of police and police commissioners, besides top officials of the state government to review poll preparedness.
Jain also met some other central government officials during the day. Meanwhile, 10 companies of the Border Security Force (BSF) have begun route marches in vulnerable pockets of a number of districts, including Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas, to instill confidence among voters.
Chief Electoral Officer Aariz Aftab and other EC officials were also present in the meeting. Police sources said they have been asked to take all preventive measures against criminals and anti-socials and arrest them to ensure the polls were peaceful.
Beginning April 11, West Bengal will see polling in seven phases, its highest-ever, along with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.