Questioning the eight-phase assembly elections in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday that she suspects that the dates were announced as per the suggestions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for better management of the Bharatiya Janata Party's poll campaign.
Addressing a press conference at her residence in Kalighat, Banerjee said the Election Commission should not look at the state 'through the eyes of the saffron camp' a reference to the BJP.
"With all due respect to the Election Commission, I want to say that questions are being raised on why elections will be held in so many phases in Bengal while other states will be voting in one phase. If EC doesn't provide justice to the people, where will the people go," she said.
"I request the Election Commission to consider West Bengal as their own state," the Trinamool Congress chief said.
Banerjee also raised questions on the way the phases were divided.
"They have divided our stronghold districts such as South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas into three parts. This is unprecedented," she said.
Banerjee said that despite 'all these tricks', she will win the elections.
"I have information from my sources that the poll dates are similar to the ones BJP wanted. Have the dates been announced as per Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah's suggestions? The PM and the home minister cannot misuse their power for the state elections," she added.
Banerjee also urged the EC to stop the misuse of money power.
"The Union home minister should work for the country. He cannot misuse his powers for the elections here. We welcome the PM, but he cannot misuse his powers for West Bengal polls," she said.
Her comments came just minutes after the Election Commission announced that voting for the five assembly elections will begin on March 27, with West Bengal having the maximum eight phases continuing till April 29, while counting of votes for the four states and one Union Territory will be on May 2.
Cautioning the Centre against 'misuse of power', Banerjee said it would prove detrimental for the BJP.
"Centre can't misuse their powers for a state election. If they do it, then it will be a big blunder and they will have to face the music. We are common people, we will fight our battle. I request the EC to stop the misuse of money. BJP has sent money to all the districts through agencies," she alleged.
Banerjee also took exception over the EC appointing two special police observers for West Bengal -- Vivek Dubey and M K Das.
"Vivek Dubey is the same man who was the observer for Bengal during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. We all know the role he had then played then," she said.
Banerjee said she is the daughter of the state and knows Bengal better than the BJP, exuding confidence about her party Trinamool Congress winning the elections.
Banerjee's allegations drew sharp reactions from the BJP, which alleged that she is perplexed over the eight-phase elections as her party won't be able to intimidate the voters.
"Why is she so worried about eight-phase elections? Is she worried because TMC goons won't be able to influence the elections? We welcome the EC's decision for eight-phase elections to ensure free and fair polls," BJP leader Rahul Sinha said.
BJP's national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya too welcomed the decision.
"We hope this won't be a blood-soaked poll. We would request the EC to round up anti-social elements in border areas to ensure free and fair elections," he said.
The state Congress said that it was looking forward to an election in 10 to 12 phases, while the Communist Party of India-Marxist maintained that the number of phases does not matter if the elections are held violence-free.
"We have seen how the panchayat polls were held in Bengal. So many people were killed due to violence. We just hope that the Election Commission ensures that polls are held in a free and fair manner," state Congress leader Manoj Chakraborty said.
Senior CPI-M leader Sujan Chakraborty said that instead of increasing the number of phases, efforts should have been made to tighten the security during the elections.
Elections for the West Bengal assembly will be held in eight phases, up from seven last time, beginning with polling for 30 seats on March 27, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced in New Delhi.
After having a limited presence in the politically polarised state for decades, the BJP has emerged as the ruling Trinamool Congress's main rival over the last couple of years, managing to win 18 out 42 seats in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 and following it with inducting popular TMC MLAs and ministers into the party.