The Election Commission has directed the police to close all community clubs located within 200 metres of polling stations in Kolkata and Salt Lake for the seventh phase of Lok Sabha elections. Opposition party leaders have said that the step would achieve little and said a complete ban on all clubs in all the nine constituencies would perhaps be effective.
Community clubs that are present in almost all neighbourhoods in Kolkata are often used as decentralised war rooms by political parties. On voting day, there have been reports of weapons being stored in these clubs.
“On Monday evening, deputy election commissioner, Sudeep Jain instructed officers of Kolkata Police and Bidhannagar City Police that the clubs should not be allowed to open from 6 am on May 17 till polling is over on May 19,” said an official at the state poll panel office requesting anonymity.
In the last phase, elections would be held in nine constituencies in Kolkata and the adjoining districts of North and South 24 Parganas districts.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bengal unit general secretary Sayantan Basu said the step will achieve little and all clubs in all nine constituencies should have been closed.
Left legislator Sujan Chakraborty was apprehensive about the efficacy of the poll panel’s step. “This is nothing new. Only the radius has been doubled. Moreover, it is only applicable for two full constituencies (Kolkata South, Kolkata North) and small parts of four constituencies (Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Dumdum and Barasat),” said said Chakraborty.
Congress MLA Abdul Mannan, too, said no EC fiat could prevent election malpractices unless the parties followed the spirit behind the directives.
Opposition party leaders have maintained that these clubs actually function as extensions of the ruling Trinamool’s muscle power in the state.
Since Mamata Banerjee assumed charge in May 2011, the state government has spent about 750 crore by allocating grants of Rs 5 lakh to each of about 15,000 clubs, for the promotion of sporting infrastructure and activity.
More than 60% of the clubs are located in and around Kolkata.
“In times of election, these clubs turn into dens of toughs and musclemen,” said Sayatntan Basu.
State food & supplies minister, Jyoti Priya Mallick refused to comment. “This is an EC decision. All that we want is impartial action by central forces,” he said.
May 14, 2019 16:54 IST