KOLKATA: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday demanded withdrawal of central forces in the next phase of polling in a bid to contain Covid spread in the state, while welcoming Madras High Courts observations that the Election Commission could not avoid blame for the spread of pandemic.
She also accused the prime minister of insensitivity, alleging "while mass pyres were lit at crematoriums, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy delivering speeches.
"I welcome the Madras High Court order, which clearly said the EC cannot escape its responsibility. Both Prime Minister Modi and EC are responsible for the (current) situation (of Covid spreading in the state)," Banerjee alleged at a workers meeting in North Kolkata where party candidates and workers were present.
"While mass pyres were lit at crematoriums, Modi was busy delivering 'Mann ki baat' speeches," the chief minister claimed.
Earlier on Monday, Madras High Court had lashed out at the Election Commission over the conduct of Assembly polls amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice S Ramamoorthy termed the EC as most irresponsible while hearing a public interest writ seeking directions to ensure fair counting of votes on May 2 in Karur by taking steps to ensure adherence to Covid-19 protocols.
"I am requesting please withdraw the around 2 lakh- strong central forces drawn from covid-hit states, who are camping in schools and colleges and safe homes hampering covid management operations 75 per cent of them may be infected by the virus. Please withdraw them in the last phase, " she said.
Banerjee said the Trinamool Congress will move the Supreme Court after the elections against the EC on the manner in which the body was conducting polls in West Bengal.
"We will tell Supreme Court. The EC did not club the poll phases despite the spike in Covid-19 cases," she said.
The number of confirmed Covid cases in West Bengal has risen from 81,466 on April 1, to over 3.52 lakh on April 25.
The chief minister claimed BJP influenced the eight- phase vote schedule drawn up by EC and that the schedule was based on the 'mondals' (organisational zones earmarked by the saffron party) and not on any rationale.
"Different areas in Kolkata (alone) went for polls on different dates," she pointed out.
"I had to visit North Bengal nine times as adjacent areas went to polls on different days (this was done) to ensure maximum coverage for BJP leaders and to prevent me from campaigning. Kolkata was split into three parts for holding polls in three phases, " she alleged, adding However, I still managed to campaign for 50 days with my injured leg.
Flagging an alleged WhatsApp conversation among EC Special Observers and District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police, she said "they are describing TMC as trouble makers and our men as TMC goons. They do not use such epithets about the BJP in the chats."
"By nominating some Superintendents of Police close to BJP, the EC might help the BJP to win six-seven more seats than the projected 70, but the Trinamool is set to cross 200 seat mark," she asserted.
Banerjee alleged EC has prepared a list as directed by BJP which instructed police to arrest key party members from Entally and Belgachhia areas ahead of the April 29 polls in north Kolkata constituencies and instructed her party functionaries "just refuse to go."
"At Raninagar (in Murshidabad district) the (central) force went on a rampage at the residence of our (local) leader. We are lodging an FIR," she claimed.
Repeating her charge that the Centre mismanaged the Covid situation, she said "PM and Home Minister literally camped in Bengal for three months and put the looming Covid-19 crisis on the backburner."
"They did not firm up a plan to bolster oxygen supply network in those months but spent money from PM Cares fund to bribe people. I was told that some were offered even Rs 25 crore to campaign for BJP," she alleged.
"I wonder if the institution (EC) is capable of protecting democracy with retired government servants looking for plum postings as Governors. There has to be people, still in service, at the helm (of EC)," she said.