When the Election Commission on February 26 announced election schedules for the four states and one Union Territory it failed to convince many independent observers, not only the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
The issue is not just why West Bengal will have eight phases of polling. That is for the state chief minister Mamata Banerjee to ask—and she is repeatedly doing so.
A close study of the whole exercise would reveal some interesting facts. Believe it or not, the truth is that 60 per cent of the polling in four states and one Union Territory would be held in one day, that is April 6, though the whole schedule is spread to 34 days—from March 27 to April 29.
Out of 824 Assembly constituencies of the four states and one Union Territory which go to poll, polling would be held in 475 of them on April 6. Not only that by-election for two Lok Sabha constituencies –Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and Malappuram in Kerala—would also take place on April 6.
Polling for all the 234 constituencies of Tamil Nadu, 140 of Kerala, 30 of Puducherry as well as 31 of West Bengal and 40 of Assam would take place on that day. Thus, while the polling would be complete in just one day in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, it has been spread to three phases in Assam (March 27, April 1 and 6) and eight phases in West Bengal—March 27, April 1,6,10, 17, 22, 26 and 29.
The big question is: if the same Election Commission can hold polling in 60 per cent constituencies in just one day why is there so much difficulty in conducting poll for the rest 349 Assembly segments?
If political violence is a factor in scheduling the polls into several phases, then by that logic Kerala should also have multi-phase polling as its record on this front is worse than Assam.
Interestingly, in both Assam and West Bengal, where multi-phase election is taking place, the Bharatiya Janata Party is a major player. In Kerala it is trying to make inroads but the main tussle is between the CPM-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
If the Election Commission has its own reason behind such a multi-phase election in West Bengal and Assam, it has failed to convince the average voters who are facing hardship in such a long polling process, which has affected normal life especially in West Bengal and Assam.
After all, in neighbouring Bihar the same Election Commission had conducted Assembly poll last year in just 10 days (Oct. 28 to Nov.7) in three phases when in all the previous elections in the last three decades the whole process used to take over a month period. If the Election Commission can speed up the whole election process in Bihar—and that too just after prolonged corona virus lockdown—why can’t it do so in West Bengal?
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.