KOLKATA: Ahead of the civic polls in West Bengal, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar Thursday asked the State Election Commission (SEC) to guard against becoming an "extension" of the state government.
In a letter to Saurabh Kumar Das, the State Election Commissioner, Dhankhar, who is locked in a running feud with the Mamata Banerjee government, recalled how the civic polls in 2013 and 2018 were "marred by violence and democratic fabric was tainted".
The governor's missive to the SEC came days after he faced criticism by TMC minister Firhad Hakim, considered close to Banerjee, for summoning Das to the Raj Bhavan to convey his concern about possible violence during the municipal elections.
"The governor should not be worried about any possible violence in the upcoming polls since law and order is a state issue. If as a person he feels deeply about crimes against human beings, then he should feel pained at the recent Delhi riots which took several human lives while more dead bodies might be recovered," Hakim was reported to have said after the meeting.
Unfazed by the criticism by the TMC, whose leaders have often accused him of being a 'BJP man', Dhankhar wrote that the State Election Commission was akin to the Election Commission of India.
Referring to provisions of the Constitution, Dhankhar wrote, "The SEC is constitutionally invested with the authority and jurisdiction similar to that of the Election Commission of India. It is neither extension of the State Government nor subordinate to it."
He said, to avert any "unwholesome scenario" and "sabotage of election process by violence, undue governmental impact or otherwise" the state's top election official can seek the assistance of additional forces, other than the state police.
Dhankhar referred to the constitutional provision which says the governor of a state shall, when so requested by the SEC, make available such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the poll body.
He also reminded that like the Election Commission of India, the State Election Commission was the 'de facto boss' of bureaucracy during elections.
"A constitutional provision has overriding impact and non-compromising primacy. "It will be a glaring breach of constitutional provision if on account of any other provision in statute or directive otherwise eclipses or dilutes constitutional provisions. Such an act would be a serious breach of Constitution generating serious consequences for the concerned," he said.
The governor assured that all timely request for additional security forces will receive his "highest priority and consideration as purity of elections is at the heart of the democratic process".
"The SEC must take all steps to dispel fears and impressions that it is an extension of the government and must engage in effective dialogue with all stakeholders with an open mind, including on fixing the dates for polls," he said, adding a contingency plan be made to ensure that "unwholesome spectacle of past is not revisited".
The dates for polling to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and 107 municipal bodies are yet to be announced, but these are likely next month.