One year 75 days turbulent tenure that Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya had as Bengal election commissioner

S R Upadhyay

By bappaditya paul

SUSHANTA Ranjan Upadhaya, the 62-year old frail man, who stepped down as Bengal state election commissioner on Tuesday evening, have had a turbulent tenure during the 1 year 2 months 15 days that he remained in the chair.

Upadhaya, a 1980 batch West Bengal Civil Service (Executive) officer, had taken over as the state election commissioner on 21 July 2014, a day after firebrand Mira Pande had exhausted her term.

Upadhaya, was the first WBCS cadre to be made the poll commissioner, a post that had all along been occupied by IAS officers ever since the West Bengal State Election Commission came into being in 1994. He had served in the Raj Bhavan secretariat from 2001 to 2014, till he was appointed the poll panel chief.

On the first day in office, Upadhaya had told journalists that he does not “want to fight with anybody” and “would like to sort out all issues with the state government amicably.”

This was in marked departure from the stand that his predecessor Pande had taken in order to hold timely elections and ensure deployment of Central forces for panchayat polls against the wish of the Mamata Banerjee government.

As a result, Upadhaya has from day one been accused for surrendering to the state government and lacking the mettle that is expected of a person holding a Constitutional position of the poll commissioner.

In fact as if in verification of the accusation, he had withdrawn the litigation that Pande had filed in the Calcutta High Court for the conduct of elections to 17 civic bodies that Banerjee wanted to delay.

Subsequently, the election to Kolkata Municipal Corporation was held this year on 18 April and in another 91 civic bodies (including 10 out of the 17)  on 25 April, as per the wish of the state government.

Widespread rigging had marked that poll as well and on the face of severe criticisms from the Opposition and the media, Upadhaya was so upset that he had actually decided to step down immediately after the vote counting on 28 April.

On that occasion, he backed off following the persuasion by a very senior officer of the state government, who had advised him to ignore such criticisms.

But after what happened on Monday, Upadhaya, who is a native of Chandannagore in Hooghly, could not take it anymore.

On Monday, a delegation of the ruling Trinamool Congress leaders led by party secretary general Partha Chatterjee was in his chamber for about four hours till afternoon, pressing for a new counting date for the Bidhannagar (Salt Lake), Bally and Asansol civic polls which Upadhaya had put off so to probe all allegations of rigging.

Chatterjee had told reporters that the party would hold a protest march to the SEC office on Tuesday if the poll panel did not announce a new counting date by then. Barely three hours after this, Upadhaya told a news conference that the civic polls counting would be held on Friday 09 October, which was a dramatic U-turn from his previous stand.

Asked about the reason for his resignation, Upadhaya said tonight: “I had to announce the new counting date after a Trinamool delegation came to me for the second time around 8 pm on Monday and demanded that we announce a new date at once. No political party or for that matter anybody, should compel a Constitutional body to take a decision under pressure.”

In close circles, Upadhaya has said that he could not withstand the “humiliation and pressure” that he had to face on Monday and made up his mind to step down in the night itself.

A thorough gentleman, he communicated this to a senior officer on Tuesday morning so to allow the state government prepare to tackle the exigency. He walked out from his official quarter at the Raj Bhavan complex in the afternoon and submitted his resignation to Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi.

Upadhaya now plans to lead a leisure life at his native place, since whoever becomes the poll commissioner, is deemed to be have retired from active civil service even if the person had not turned 60 years.

Moreover, Upadhaya had exhausted his service tenure in 2013 itself and was serving Raj Bhavan on extension as an officer on special duty.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 06 October 2015.) 

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