The Election Commission on Wednesday evening issued a notice to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for "openly demanding votes on communal grounds" while campaigning in Tarakeshwar in Hooghly district on April 3, ahead of the third phase of elections.
Ms Banerjee, 66, has been directed to explain her remarks within 48 hours of receipt of the notice, failing which the Commission said it would "take a decision without further reference to you".
The notice is based on a complaint by a BJP delegation led by Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
According to the poll body, the complaint refers to the following section of Ms Banerjee's speech.
"... I am requesting my minority brothers and sisters with folded hands... don't divide the minority votes after listening to the devil... who had taken money from the BJP... He passes many communal statements and initiates clashes between Hindus and Muslims... comrades of the CPM and BIP is roaming around with money given by BJP to divide the minority votes".
The comments, the poll body said, violated the RP Act and the Model Code of Conduct.
Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra then hit back, tweeting: "Mamatadi issued notice by Election Commission on BJP's complaints. What about TMC complaints... at least keep up the farce of impartiality".
Mamatadi issued notice by @ECISVEEP on @BJP's complaint— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) April 7, 2021
What about TMC complaints of
1. Video evidence of BJP candidate distributing cash
2. Cash coupons distributed to attend BJP mtng & vote
Gentlemen - at least keep up the farce of impartiality!
On Tuesday Prime Minister Narendra Modi - campaigning in Cooch Behar ahead of the fourth phase on April 10 - took a swipe at Ms Banerjee over these comments.
"Didi (Ms Banerjee), recently you said all Muslims should unite and not allow their votes to be divided... means you are convinced the Muslim vote bank has also gone out of your hands, the Muslims have also turned away from you," the Prime Minister said.
"Had we said the same thing that all Hindus should unite, everybody would have criticised us. The EC would have sent us notices. We would have been censured," PM Modi added.
Muslims constitute about 27 per cent of Bengal's population and, in earlier elections, they were a reliable vote bank for Ms Banerjee. In this poll though, the entry of two Muslim leaders - AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and a religious leader from Furfura Sharif - has complicated matters.
The Chief Minister has been openly critical about both - linking them to the BJP and its attempts, she says, to split Muslim votes and ensure that it does not come to her party.
"A traitor has emerged from Furfura Sharif who has taken money from the BJP. You must remember you (the BJP) can't win in Bengal through treachery," she had said.
Ms Banerjee had visited a polling booth at Nandigram - the scene of her 2011 triumph and from where she is taking on protege-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari this year.
While there she was stuck inside a room as BJP and Trinamool supporters faced off outside. Ms Banerjee accused the poll body of failing to maintain law and order during polling.
The Commission hit back and said Ms Banerjee's action were fraught with "immense potential to have adverse effect on the law and order across West Bengal and maybe in some other states".
Bengal votes next on April 10, with four more phases after that. Results will be declared May 2.
With input from PTI