Writing on the wall: West Bengal parties unhappy with poll panel

October 27th, 2008 - 6:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyKolkata, Oct 27 (IANS) From being bitter rivals engaged in slugfests round the year on sundry issues, political parties in West Bengal have at last found a common enemy - the Election Commission.Parties of all hues - be it the ruling Left, the Trinamool Congress, the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - are up in arms against the Election Commission directives banning wall graffiti and political meetings in educational institution premises.

The guidelines have been in existence for a while, but West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer Debashish Sen reiterated them last week, leading to strong reactions.

Speaking in a rare unanimous voice - the absence of which forced Tata Motors to shift its coveted small car Nano project out of the state, the parties are complaining that the diktats would affect the people’s democratic rights to campaign in the elections.

“I don’t understand why the Election Commission is trying to ban graffiti which is the cheapest means of election campaigning. If the poll panel wants to reduce the expenditure on election campaigning, then why is it banning graffiti,” state Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) secretary Biman Bose said.

He said the CPI-M submitted a letter, on ‘case for reform’, to the Commission in August 2006 to bring in certain changes in its directives.

“We had given a proposal that putting up banners and hoardings in private places should not be prohibited,” Bose said, adding the notice will create problems for all political parties, which want to stage their political programmes at a minimum expenditure.

He also railed against the restrictions on holding election meetings on school and college grounds.

“In the suburban belts only school and college grounds have big areas where large gathering can be accommodated. If meetings can’t be held there, where will they be - on road?” Bose asked.

He, however, conceded that necessary permission should be obtained from the respective authorities before holding any meeting.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is also opposed to the notice on poll-graffiti.

Banerjee says poor parties like the Trinamool, which doesn’t have its own daily newspaper and TV channels unlike its bigger rivals, will suffer due to this restriction.

Communist Party of India (CPI) state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar said the ban is “totally against” the democratic rights of all the political parties.

“We are opposed to the Election Commision directives. Our party thinks graffiti is the only means for political parties to campaign at a low cost. It’s fine that we’ll not write on the walls of the government offices, but if we can write on the private walls taking permission from the owners, what’s the harm in it?” he said.

“When there is no restriction on corporate houses on painting walls for their ad campaigns, why are the political parties being debarred from having recourse to this mode of canvassing? I think no one should impose any such restriction which would affect the democratic rights of people in our society,” Majumdar told IANS.

The Election Commission directed that only political flags, banners and hoardings can be put up on private buildings, that too with the permission from the owners of that property. The poll panel also gave a guideline that no political meeting would be allowed in the premises of the educational institutions.

State Congress Committee working president Pradip Bhattacharya also urged the poll panel to amend its guidelines.

“We’ll not write on government buildings, but why not on the private walls with the permission from the owners of those houses?” he said.

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