Hindustan Times (Jammu)

Didi stages protest against EC ban

- HT Correspond­ent letters@ hindustant­imes. com

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday staged a three-and-a-half-hour protest in the heart of Kolkata to protest against the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) “unconstitu­tional” decision to bar her from campaignin­g for 24 hours over her remarks against central forces and a statement during an election rally which the poll watchdog said had religious overtones.

Banerjee, still confined to a wheelchair owing to the injuries she sustained in Nandigram last month, arrived at Mayo Road here around 11.40 am and began her sit-in next to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, with the security personnel having cordoned off the area.

No TMC leaders or supporters were spotted nearby.

A senior TMC leader, who did not want to be named, said, “No party member was allowed anywhere near the site of the dharna. She sat there alone.”

The CM, who had a black scarf wrapped around her neck as a mark of protest, took to painting -- one of her favourite hobbies -- during the 3.5-hour sit-in, even as leaders of other

political parties criticised the ban on her.

Shiv Sena lawmaker Sanjay Raut called the ban a direct attack on democracy. “ECI has imposed a ban on Mamta didi for 24 hours. This is clearly done at the behest of BJP, ruling party in India,” he tweeted. “It is a direct attack on democracy and sovereignt­y of independen­t institutio­ns of India. Solidarity with Bengal Tigress...”

In a tweet, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam ( DM) chief

MK Stalin said the EC “must ensure a level playing field for all parties and candidates and ensure that impartiali­ty and neutrality is maintained.”

ECI had on Monday banned Banerjee from campaignin­g for 24 hours for violating the model code of conduct and the 1951 Representa­tion of the People Act with her speeches. The allegation­s against Banerjee were that, on April 7, she appealed to Muslim voters to unite and not split their vote;

and on April 8, she criticised central forces and urged people to surround them if they create disturbanc­es.

The ban came into force at 8pm on April 12 and was lifted on April 13 at the same time, after which the CM held two back-to-back rallies in North 24 Parganas.

The fifth round of the state’s eight-phase polls is on April 17, and the silent period kicks in 72 hours earlier, in the constituen­cies going to polls. With her one-day ban, Banerjee had little time left for campaignin­g because the EC extended the pre-poll silent period from 48 to 72 hours for the fifth round, to ward off any disturbanc­es.

The fifth phase of polls for 45 seats in four districts on Saturday is the largest of the eight rounds of the elections in the state.

 ?? SAMIR JANA/HT ?? West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at a sit-in protest in Kolkata on Tuesday.
SAMIR JANA/HT West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at a sit-in protest in Kolkata on Tuesday.

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