They questioned the timing of the decision and termed it “unconstitutional”.
The EC’s action came a day after parts of Kolkata witnessed widespread violence during BJP president Amit Shah’s massive road show in the city. A bust of 19th century Bengali icon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar was also vandalised during the violence.
“This would be the first time when EC has invoked Article 324 in this manner but it may not be the last in cases of repetition of lawlessness and violence which vitiate the conduct of polls in a peaceful and orderly manner,” Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said.
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee said it is an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical gift” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the poll panel. The West Bengal chief minister also said she had never seen this type of Election Commission which is “full of RSS people”.
“There is no such law and order problem in West Bengal that Article 324 can be clamped. It is unprecedented, unconstitutional and unethical. It is actually a gift to Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah,” she claimed in a press conference.
Questioning the Election Commission’s decision, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury asked if the poll body had set the time to allow Modi to address two rallies in the state.
“If a ban is intended for 72 hours, why is it starting at 10 pm tomorrow? Is it to allow the two rallies of the PM before that?” Yechury tweeted shortly after the EC’s announcement.
Modi is scheduled to address rallies in Laxmikantapur and Dum Dum in West Bengal on Thursday afternoon.
“The decision by the EC to stop campaigning a day in advance is not understood. The first thing being expected by EC was action against the lumpen elements of BJP and TMC for violence yesterday. Why has no action been initiated?” the CPI(M) leader asked.
Congress also came down heavily on the Election Commission, saying it has been a “shameful fall for a once-independent constitutional body”.
Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the use of Article 324 by the EC is an “unpardonable betrayal of the Constitution” as the poll body has failed to maintain a level-playing field.
Congress leader Ahmed Patel also tweeted on Wednesday:
Rallying behind Banerjee, BSP supremo Mayawati said that the West Bengal chief minister is being targeted as part of a conspiracy to divert attention from failures of the Modi government.
It is now clear that under the present Chief Election Commissioner, Lok Sabha polls are not being held in a totally free and fair manner, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister told reporters.
The Election Commission curtailed campaigning in West Bengal under pressure of central government, she further charged.
(With PTI inputs)