Within a few hours of receiving an ultimatum from the Election Commission to comply with its orders on transfer of state government officials, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday fell in line and agreed to cooperate with the EC.
Banerjee did not have much of a choice. The EC made it clear that the state government either follow its orders or the election in the state would be postponed or cancelled. Polling in West Bengal is scheduled to begin from April 17 in five phases. This was enough to puncture her bluster.
At a hurriedly-called press conference in Durgapur in Bardhaman district of West Bengal, Banerjee climbed down from her ‘my way or the highway’ position to say that she has respect for the Constitutional body.
“I agree to remove these officers though they are very efficient. I respect any Constitutional body, but that does not mean it should indulge in falsehood and mislead the people. They (EC officials) never consulted the state government before ordering these transfers... It is acting in vengeance,” she said at the press conference.
Earlier in the day, rejecting the face-saver formula suggested by the state outright, the EC issued an ultimatum to it to comply with its orders by 10 am on Wednesday and transfer the eight state officials and appoint those whom it had named.
The government, which on Monday refused to comply with the EC’s order to transfer five SPs, one district magistrate and two additional district magistrates, softened its stand on Tuesday and suggested that it will agree to the transfers, though with its own choice as the replacements.
The EC had considered the suggestion and rejected it. EC sources also rejected the claims of the government that it was not consulted on the replacement of officers and made it clear that the state chief secretary was present in the meeting convened by Chief Election Commissioner in which the issue was discussed.
In his letter to the EC, state chief secretary Sanjoy Mitra requested it to reconsider its decision on the transfers. He suggested that the state will agree to the transfers, but wants its own choice as their replacements. But his list didn’t include officials that the EC chose as replacements.
During her campaign meeting on Monday in the Bankura and Purulia districts, Banerjee said, “I will not remove a single officer. They have not committed any crime. I have respect for the Constitution, but will not tolerate insults from Delhi.”
She alleged, “The commission ordered these transfers obeying the diktats of the Congress. This is a conspiracy by the poll commission and the Congress. The more they conspire, it will increase our seats and we will win all the 42 seats in Bengal.”
However, after having known the commission’s latest directive, she changed her stand.
The Opposition parties too gunned for her, with the Congress saying the EC must register a criminal case against Banerjee and put her behind bars. The BJP demanded that she be served a show-cause notice.