- For the first time, election body has used Article 324 of Constitution
- The decision comes after violence at BJP chief Amit Shah's roadshow
- The BJP hailed the decision as validation of their complaint
The campaign for the last round of voting in Bengal has been cut short by the Election Commission in an unprecedented decision, after violence at BJP president Amit Shah's roadshow on Tuesday evening. While the BJP hailed the Commission's decision as validation of their complaint that Bengal has descended into anarchy, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it was "undemocratic" and a "gift for BJP".
For the first time, the powerful election body has used Article 324 of the Constitution -- which gives it the powers of "superintendence, direction and control of elections" -- for restricting election campaigns. So far, it has been used for cancellation or postponement of election or penalising individual candidates.
Campaigning for the nine seats in Bengal, which will vote on May 19, will end on Thursday night at 10 pm, a day early. It would have ended at 5 pm on Friday. The Election Commission also ordered the removal of two senior officers -- Principal Secretary (Home) and Additional Director General, CID (Criminal Investigation department).
Calling the decision "unethical, unconstitutional, undemocratic and biased", Mamata Banerjee said, "Tomorrow, Modi has two meetings in Bengal. When he finishes, the campaigning also ends... Instead of punishing Amit Shah, the Election Commission has given a gift to the BJP".
The decision came as the political fight between the BJP and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee escalated over the vandalizing of a statue of iconic 19th century reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Both parties accused each other of inciting the violence and desecrating the statue.
The Election Commission said it was "deeply anguished at the vandalism done to the statue" of an icon who, "besides his many other achievements as a philosopher, academic educator, writer and philanthropist, worked all his life in the cause of widow remarriage which was unthought and unheard of in the ultraconservative society in those days."
The BJP claimed the Commission, through their decision, has agreed about the prevailing anarchy in Bengal.
Union Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted: "A constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India, has effectively held Bengal to be a state in Anarchy. Repeatedly escalating violence, state supported Vandals, a partisan police and home department are the illustrations the ECI has given."
A free campaign is not possible and therefore the campaign has to be cut short. This is a classical case of breakdown of the Constitutional Machinery.— Chowkidar Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) May 15, 2019
Earlier on Wednesday, Amit Shah had accused the Trinamool of attacking his roadshow as a part of a "conspiracy". His party also demanded that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee be barred from campaigning.
Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien, in turn, called the BJP chief "Dhokabaaz" and "pukeworthy". He also complained to the Election Commission, submitted what he called video proof that the BJP was behind the vandalism.
In Bengal, where the Trinamool and the BJP are locked in an intense battle for 42 Lok Sabha seats, every round of voting has seen violence and clashes between rival activists.