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Rahul Gandhi decides to campaign in West Bengal, but in one constituency, only hours before ‘silence period’ kicks in: How it might impact Congress

While the Goalpokhar constituency will be up for votes during the 6th phase on April 22, the voting in the Matigara-Naxalbari Vidhan Sabha constituency will take place during the 5th phase of elections on April 17

Congress scion Rahul Gandhi had been absent from the campaign trail in West Bengal during the four phases of the State Legislative polls. While the Trinamool Congress and BJP had been fighting a fierce battle in West Bengal, the Congress campaign in the State has been feeble. After Congress State-in-charge Jitin Prasada was diagnosed with Coronavirus, the party had been struggling to find a leader to campaign in the State.

Although the likes of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Salman Khurshid and Jaiveer Shergill had addressed gatherings ahead of the polls, Rahul Gandhi had been missing so far from the election arena in West Bengal. In a new development, the Congress scion has reportedly announced that he will address election rallies in Goalpokar and Matigara-Naxalbari Vidhan Sabha constituencies on April 14.

The party is contesting in 92 constituencies in has allied with the Left and Islamist Indian Secular Front (ISF). Reportedly, a lack of positive outcome in the State has so far deterred top-notch Congress leaders from campaigning in West Bengal. While the Congress ground workers might have been exhilarated with the visit of Rahul Gandhi, the violence witnessed during the 4th phase of polls have made his plans rather futile from the perspective of actually garnering any votes.

How the ‘silence period’ will affect the campaigning of Rahul Gandhi

Keeping in mind the law and order situation in the State, the Election Commission has announced that the usual silence period of 48 hours (2 days) will be increased to 72 hours ahead of the 5th phase of the polls. The silence period refers to a temporary ban on political campaigning during which no political parties are allowed to hold election rallies or convince electorates to vote for them.

While the Goalpokhar constituency will be up for votes during the 6th phase on April 22, the voting in the Matigara-Naxalbari Vidhan Sabha constituency will take place during the 5th phase of elections on April 17. As stated earlier, Congress Scion Rahul Gandhi will be visiting West Bengal on April 14 in the hopes to turn around his party’s political fortunes in the two said constituencies.

It is pertinent to note that after the unbridled violence in Cooch Behar, the Election Commission had said that politicians would be barred from entering the Cooch Behar district for 72 hours. They had also said that the silence period would be increased to 72 hours in the run-up to the 5th phase of polling in West Bengal. Therefore, no politician would be able to campaign in any constituency for 72 hours before the polling day in the 5th poll.

So where does this leave Rahul Gandhi?

It put things into perspective, Section 126 of theRepresentation of the People Act, 1951prohibits displaying any election matter by means, inter alia, of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency. It is after the violence in Cooch Behar, that the Election Commission has increased this window of 48 hours to 72 hours.

Therefore, if the polling day is the 17th, political parties will have to stop campaigning by the 14th evening. Generally, political parties start wrapping up their campaigning work by 5 PM before the silence period kicks in. Thus, it stands to reason that Rahul Gandhi, after finally deciding to campaign in West Bengal after 4 phases, he will have to complete his rally in a hurry and get out of the constituency by 14th evening.

Given that the Goalpokhar constituency will vote on April 22, the silence period will not be applicable during the time of his visit to the State on April 14. The Congress’ plans to pitch Gandhi, ahead of the polls, had been soured by the violence witnessed in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar.

Will his campaigning in Matigara-Naxalbari yield results?

The West Bengal polls have largely been a battle between TMC and BJP, being fought fiercely. Congress, which is in alliance with Abbas Siddiqui and the Left has been largely absent from the campaigning trail after the alliance with Abbas Siddiqui. The decision to stay away from West Bengal can largely be attributed to two aspects.

For one, Abbas Siddiqui is an Islamist who is actively alienating the few Hindus who might vote for Congress and the Left.

The West Bengal unit of the BJP had earlier put out a video drawing analogies between the slogans of the separatist leaders of the Muslim League in 1946 to that of the recent speech by Peerzada-turned-politician Abbas Siddiqui. The BJP tweeted, “Ladke lenga Pakistan (We will fight until we get Pakistan) – Muslim League leaders, 1946. Matribhumi ke saadhin korbo (We will gain independence for our homeland) – Abbas Siddiqui 2021.”

While addressing a large gathering of supporters at the Bridage Parade Ground in Kolkata, Abbas Siddiqui remarked, “I want to say this to all Bengalis, and my beloved folks to vote for the CPIM wherever they field their candidates. In the next election, we will free our homeland even if it requires shedding our blood for it.” As can be seen in the video, Abbas Siddiqui’s vicious election rhetoric of separatism and violence was cheered on by a large number of supporters.

Therefore, Congress has kept a arm’s length from Siddiqui. Further, Congress is in an alliance with CPIM in Bengal, while it is fighting against the Communists in the state of Kerala. The decision to campaign in Bengal only comes after Kerala has finished polling on the 6th of April.

While Congress has kept away from West Bengal, it has now decided to campaign in Bengal before the 5th phase, however, with the silence phase kicking in, it does not really leave Rahul Gandhi much time to campaign in one of the two constituencies.

Mob attacks CISF in Sitalkuchi, sours plans of Congress scion

A mob attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) soldiers during the fourth phase of elections in West Bengal after TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee asked her followers to gherao the central forces. Four TMC workers were killed after the CISF fired on the violent mob. As per reports, the incident took place at the Jorpatki area of the Mathabhanga block in the Sitalkuchi Legislative Assembly of Cooch Behar district.

Cooch Behar SP defended the CISF action against the lumpen elements, saying that the action was an act of ‘self-defence. He said that a mob of 300-350 men had attacked the CISF team and tried to snatch their arms that forced the team to open fire on the miscreants. The deceased have been identified as Monirujjaman (28), Hamidul Miyan (30), Nur Alma Miyan (21) and Samiul Haque (20).

As per multiple reports, four people died after central forces open-fired in a polling booth in self-defence, while at another place one person died after miscreants opened fire. Sitalkuchi was on the boil since early morning. According to reports, bombs were hurled outside the booth. Some groups had also opened fire while the police managed to recover bombs from the area, India Today reported.

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