Election Commission on Monday ordered transfer of eight West Bengal officials including five district police chiefs and one district magistrate, but a defiant Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refused to carry out the instruction and said she was even prepared to go to jail.
The commission’s order, which came a day after the full bench of the poll panel held wide consultations with state officials and political parties, was sent to the state Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra during the day.
The superintendents of police (SPs) – in charge of West Midnapore, Bardhman, Birbhum, Malda and North 24 Parganas districts – were involved in the reshuffle along with the district magistrate of North 24 Parganas.
Seven of the officials, including two additional district magistrates, removed from their post during the day, have been relieved from poll duty, while Birbhum SP Alok Rajoria has been shifted to the vacant post of SP of Jhargram police district.
The commission asked the state government to implement the orders by Tuesday.
“As regards the posting of the existing officers who are to be shifted, the commission has said the state government may post them on non-election related and non-field posts on intimation to the Commission,” chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta told reporters.
Omkar Singh Meena has been posted in place of Sanjay Bansal as district magistrate of North 24 Parganas.
“Sheesh Ram Jhajharia will be posted as SP Midnapore district in place of Bharati Ghosh, and Sayyed Waqar Raza will be SP Murshidabad in place of Humayun Kabir,” Gupta said.
Miraz Khalid replaces Sayyed M.H. Mirza as SP Burdwan while Rashid Munir Khan is the new Birbhum SP in place of Rajoria and B. Kumar takes over as SP Malda in place of R. K. Yadav.
The poll panel order triggered an angry outburst from the chief minister, who challenged it.
“Put me in jail. I will not remove a single officer as chief minister. You rule and remove.”
She termed the commission’s decision as a conspiracy hatched by the central government, the poll panel, the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist as also a media group, and said it was aimed at facilitating rigging of the elections by the opposition parties.
“Either you have to accept my resignation or I will obey you. I respect you, but not by bowing down,” Banerjee told an election meeting at Pandua of Hooghly district.
“I will fight it alone. .. Don’t blame Mamata Banerjee for any trouble. Either Mamata Banerjee will look after law and order, or the election commission. You control law and order. I have no objection. I can’t take responsibility.”
“I have been elected by the people. I have not been elected at the mercy of the Congress, or you. I challenge the Election Commission, which I have never done in my life,” she said.
“Who will capture the booths? The Election Commission or the observers?” she asked.
“If my Junglemahal flares up, remember Election Commission, you cannot overrule the people. You have your limitation.”
Training her guns on Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi, Banerjee alleged there was a non-bailable warrant against him and questioned how such an officer can be given overall charge of elections in a state.
Responding to Banerjee’s comments, Gupta said: “After announcement of election, all election officers and police officers under the Representation of the People Act come under the superintendence, direction and control of the Election Commission.”
The opposition parties sharply criticised Banerjee for creating a constitutional crisis.
“She is not talking sense. What she has said may lead to a constitutional stalemate,” said CPI-M leader Sujon Chakraborty.
Congress leader Arunabha Ghosh said: “What she has said amounts to going against the constitution which has elected her.”